Negotiations on a new treaty on biodiversity in areas of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction centred today on whether areas requiring protection through area-based management tools - including marine protected areas – should be determined on the basis of “precautionary principle” or “precautionary approach”.
While delegations were divided in that regard, they were broadly in agreement that the proposed treaty – expected to be concluded in the first half of 2020 – should refer to the “establishment” of such areas, rather than “designation”.
Speakers also exchanged views on a list of criteria for identifying such areas, with some questioning some specific items and others calling for the list to be simplified. Some proposed that the list be taken out of the body of the proposed treaty and become an annex instead.
Deliberations on these and other topics are taking place at Headquarters during the third session of the International Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. The session runs through 30 August.
Focusing on paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 in article 16 in the draft text (document A/CONF.232/2019/6), the observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it should refer to the “establishment” rather than the “designation” of area-based management tools, including marine protected areas. He left it to other Group of 77 member delegations to address the question of “precautionary approach” versus “precautionary principle”. He also detailed the Group’s recommendations vis-à-vis paragraph 2 which features a list of 22 potential criteria for establishing or designating area-based management tools.
The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, and associating himself with the Group of 77, expressed support for “precautionary principle”. He also suggested that the list of criteria be streamlined and perhaps replaced by four general criteria.
The representative of Belize, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said article 16 could be restructured to underscore the importance of focusing on the broader objective of conservation and sustainable use. Noting that criteria for identifying potential area-based management tools could be drawn from other relevant instruments and scientific and technical bodies, she proposed that the list be included in the final treaty as an annex.
The representative of the European Union delegation said the bloc strongly prefers to speak of the “precautionary principle” in line with the 1992 Rio Declaration, and the “ecosystem approach” in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity. He concurred with the possibility of annexing the list of criteria, but questioned the inclusion of such factors as dependency, economic and social factors, and feasibility.
The representative of Costa Rica, speaking for the Group of Like-Minded Latin American States, favoured “establishment”, arguing that that word carried more weight than “designation”. She added that the list of criteria should be indicative, not exhaustive, and subject to review as necessary.
The representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States, noting that the acronym for area-based management tools could also stand for “a beautiful morning together,” spoke in favour of article 16 referring to “precautionary principle”. He also suggested that “cultural factors” be included in the list of criteria, which should also include references to climate change and ocean acidification.
When the floor opened to individual Member States, the representative of the Russian Federation said decisions concerning area-based management tools should be taken within existing competent bodies. If no such organizations exist, then concerned States would assume responsibility to create them. He emphasized that area-based management tools can not only focus on conservation efforts, but also on sustainable use and management of marine resources. He went on to state that his delegation sees no value in an overinflated list of criteria. At the most, the Conference could consider annexing an indicative list that Member States could use to propose marine protected areas through established organizations.
The representative of Canada supported article 16 referring to “precautionary approach” as that is the formulation used in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and the Rio Declaration. To do so would be to know what is being talked about, he said, noting that “precautionary principle” is used in less formal contexts. He expressed general support for including the list of criteria in the body of the draft text, adding, however, that “feasibility” was not a valid entry.
The representative of Switzerland, favouring “precautionary principle”, said that 20 years after the Rio Declaration, “I think we should move forward” – a perspective shared by her counterpart from Bangladesh. She added that the list of criteria could be extended or revisited by a working group.
The representative of the United States favoured “precautionary approach,” stating that the alternative means taking a position on a legal question, given that “principle” implies a legal conclusion. “We should stay with a normal approach, which is ‘approach’,” he said. He added that identifying marine protected areas should be based on best available science, with States using clear criteria which reflect international norms. He went on to say that the United States would prefer that the list of criteria exclude mention of climate change, but if it does, it should refer to “vulnerability to climate change”.
The representative of Kiribati said his country is very passionate about article 16, given that it is home to one of the world’s biggest marine protected areas. Established a decade ago, it is working well, he said, contributing to a doubling and tripling of Pacific tuna stocks. From the point of view of a small country, he added, Kiribati suggests that the list of criteria be cut down, perhaps by borrowing from the work of existing instruments and organizations.
Separately, delegates took up paragraph 4 of article 16 dealing with the application of criteria for the identification of areas requiring protection through area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, by States Parties and the scientific and technical body to be established through the new treaty. The representative of Belize, speaking again on behalf of CARICOM, said the paragraph should be split in two, while her counterparts from Costa Rica, for the Group of Like-Minded Latin American States, and the Federated States of Micronesia, for the Pacific small island developing States, said it could be deleted altogether.
Also speaking were representatives of China, Turkey, Norway, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Singapore, New Zealand, Thailand, Eritrea, Cuba, Australia, Maldives, Senegal, Mauritius, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Monaco and Iceland.
Observers of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, World Wildlife Fund (on behalf of a group of non-governmental organizations) and the Pew Charitable Trust (on behalf of the High Seas Alliance) also spoke.