Countries have agreed to start formal negotiations on a new “legally binding instrument” for the high seas. The Global Ocean Commission welcomes the decision on 24 January by the United Nations Informal Working Group on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) to begin negotiations for a new international agreement for the sustainable use and conservation of marine biodiversity in the high seas
The BBNJ is the UN’s technical group mandated by the Rio+20 Earth Summit of 2012 to address the governance and conservation of the high seas – the portion of the ocean beyond a country’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. These areas beyond national jurisdiction represent 64% of the ocean’s surface, and 45% of our entire planet.
Global Ocean Commission Co-chair David Miliband, who addressed delegates at the BBNJ meeting, said he found it “encouraging to see the UN agreeing to take action”. Mr Miliband continued: “This was one of the main demands identified by the Global Ocean Commission; I’m glad the message is getting across. The consensus reached last week will be remembered as a milestone in the modernisation of ocean governance.”
Since the release of its report in June 2014, the Global Ocean Commission has continued to actively promote the need for an Implementing Agreement in numerous fora. For example, in December 2014, the Commission convened the Monaco roundtable meeting jointly with the Prince Albert II and Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundations and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Also in December, the Commission organised a high seas policy dialogue hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and with participation by key US stakeholders.
The Global Ocean Commission’s 2014 call for an Implementing Agreement was relayed and supported by more than 285,000 citizens from 111 countries, who signed a petition that was delivered to the UN Secretary General at the opening of the current Session of the UN General Assembly in September last year.
Global Ocean Commissioner Robert Hill, who was the first Chairperson of the BBNJ Working Group when it was formed in 2006, called last week’s decision “historic”. Commissioner Hill said: “As always with UN processes, the work is far from over. First, we have to ensure the consensus recommendation is not undermined when it goes before the General Assembly in a few months and, second, it will be important to monitor closely the treaty negotiation – including the Preparatory Committee process and ultimately the international conference.” Commissioner Hill emphasised that although “the determination of the NGO community” had been essential, “they will need to save their strength because the treaty negotiations will take several years.”
A detailed political analysis of the BBNJ meeting and its outcome is available on the Earth Negotiations Bulletin website.