By Magdalena A.K. Muir
The UN General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to convene three meetings of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ).These meetings took place from 1st to 4th April 2014, and 16th to 19th June 2014, with a further meeting from 20 to 23 January 2015. In these meetings, UN member states and civil society are exploring the terms of a possible future agreement under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). After one more meeting in early January 2015, the recommendations and any draft document of this group which would be subsequently considered, negotiated and voted on by the UN General Assembly. This process is being supported by the UN Division of Ocean Affair and the Law of the Seas which maintain records and documents of all proceedings.
Dr. Magdalena A.K. Muir of the Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC) participated the first two meetings of this informal working group on BBNJ with the support of the Global Oceans Forum, and with the assistance of a Fulbright Scholarship with the the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of Delaware and the Columbia Climate Center at the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City. Diverse parties attended the April meeting and the June meeting.
This report summarizes some of the issues arising at these meetings, and especially the highlights the leadership role and positions taken by the European Union (EU) and European countries. Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction are also called the high seas. Often considered the world’s last global commons, the complex ecosystems in these marine areas include the water column and seabed of the high seas.These seas are mostly far from coasts, making the sustainable management of the fisheries resources and biodiversity conservation more difficult. These ecosystems are subject to negative impacts from human activities in many sectors – from shipping to marine pollution to deep sea fishing and mining – all compounded by a lack of comprehensive legal instruments and coherent governance. There is a broad recognition that there is a gap in regulation of activities and environmental protection of these high seas, and a wide range of approaches in how to address this gap from doing nothing to creating a binding comprehensive international legal instrument under UNCLOS. There were some differences of opinion over the binding nature of the agreement. Benefit sharing for marine genetic resources on the sea bed or water column in these international water was also an area of difference. There was also strong concern about the relationship between any resulting instrument under UNCLOS and the regional fisheries management agreements and organisations that already apply over much of the globe.
The EU along with its member countries have been taking a leadership role at these meeting. At the June meeting, the EU and member states indicated that they have strongly supported for over a decade the development of an UNCLOS implementing agreement to preserve and protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In particular, EU and member states asserted:
- EU and member states believe that UNCLOS provides the legal framework under which all activities in the oceans and seas must be conducted, and which specifies the rights and obligations of countries. In their view, the new implementing agreement would implement, strengthen and elaborate obligations already in UNCLOS, such as the general obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment, the obligation to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitats of depleted, threatened or endangered species or other forms of marine life, the duty to co-operate on a global or regional basis for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, the duty to undertake environmental impact assessments and publish or communicate reports of the results of these assessments.
- The EU and member states indicated that implementing agreement under UNCLOS would build on existing achievements and be complimentary to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and the work of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations,(RFMOs), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) already established under UNCLOS.
- For area based management tools and and multi-purpose Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), they stated that the implementing agreement should provide for the identification and designation of globally recognized multi-purposed MPAs, the establishment of conservation and management objectives for these MPAs, monitoring and surveillance of activities for the MPAs, and mechanisms to ensure other international agreements and organisations such as RFMOs recognise these MPAs.
- For marine genetic resources, they suggest a pragmatic approach midway between an assertion that marine genetic resources are resources within the “common heritage of mankind”, and the current first come, first served approach which undermines sustainability. They suggest the implementing agreement include terms defining these marine genetic resources, their collection consistent with conservation and sustainability, access provisions, and sharing of benefits which could be both monetary and non-monetary (information, capacity development, access and transfer of knowledge and technology). For benefit sharing, existing regimes under the 2001 FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and the 2010 Nagoya Protocol and its annexes could be considered.
European Positions at Juon Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction
Further information on Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction
In resolution 68/70, paragraph 200, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to convene three meetings of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, to take place from 1 to 4 April and 16 to 19 June 2014 and from 20 to 23 January 2015. These meetings are supported by the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Seas, which also maintains records and documents from all meetings at this weblink.
Seventh Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group, New York, 1- 4 April 2014
Eighth Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 16 to 19 June 2014
IISD Summary of the Seventh Meeting of the Working Group on Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (1-4 April 2014)
IISD Summary of the Eighth Meeting of the Working Group on Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (16-19 June 2014)