Countries agreed late Friday evening to recommend to the United Nations General Assembly elements to be considered in the development of a new treaty on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The agreement came after two weeks of discussions.  The Preparatory Committee, which was Chaired by H.E. Mr. Carlos Sobral Duarte (Brazil), was tasked with advising the General Assembly on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Preparatory Committee also recommended that the General Assembly take a decision, as soon as possible, on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to consider the recommendations on the elements and elaborate the text of a treaty.

Delegations agreed that the elements were non-exclusive and without prejudice to the position of States during the negotiations. Countries could not reach consensus on all the elements for the prospective treaty.

The General Assembly is to decide at its next session on the convening and starting date of an intergovernmental conference to elaborate on a treaty.  Many countries have called for this conference to start work early in 2018.

“This is indeed a momentous moment for the Ocean and for the high seas and the rich biodiversity therein,” said Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly.  “This is one more solid step by the international community, and by the United Nations, towards ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of the Ocean and its resources.”

The preparatory negotiations, sometimes informally referred to as “BBNJ” (biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction), took place at UN Headquarters in New York from 10-21 July and included governments, global and regional intergovernmental organizations, and civil society.

There is growing pressure for a comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction as the world has recognized the opportunities that sustainable ocean-based economies provide while also expressing concern about the increasing deterioration of the ocean, and the resulting negative impacts on sustainable development.  Pollution, the destruction of marine habitats, overfishing, and the impacts of climate change are among the major drivers of the ocean’s decline.

A comprehensive global assessment of the marine environment released in 2015 found widespread evidence of particularly strong negative trends in marine biodiversity.  The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment stated that delays in implementing solutions to the problems that have already been identified as threatening to degrade the world’s ocean will lead, unnecessarily, to incurring greater environmental, social and economic costs.

The new legal instrument would fall under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has, since its entry into force in 1994, governed all matters related to the use of ocean space and resources, including limits of and jurisdiction over maritime spaces, navigational rights, exploration and exploitation of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, conservation and management of marine living resources, protection and preservation of the marine environment, marine scientific research, development and transfer of marine technology and settlement of disputes between States.

The Preparatory Committee meetings focused on a package of issues including four main areas for the treaty, namely marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits, area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.

Discussions leading up to the present negotiations have been ongoing since 2006.  At the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, countries recognized “the importance of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction” and committed to address the issue on an urgent basis, including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument. In 2015, the General Assembly agreed on a resolution deciding to develop an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Photo by: Edwar Herreño/