A landmark resolution was adopted earlier today by a consensus of UN member states, to develop a legally-binding treaty for the conservation of marine life beyond national territorial waters – that area of the ocean shared by all. Resolution UNGA 99/292 formalizes the recommendations made last January by the UN Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group (“UN Working Group”) which was tasked with assessing the feasibility of a new treaty, and signals a major step forward toward convening an intergovernmental negotiating conference that would finalize the terms of the new treaty, possibly in 2018.
Leading to the January 2015 recommendations, the UN Working Group convened a series of meetings since 2006 to explore issues related to ocean governance in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Some of the current gaps identified and that could be addressed by this treaty would include a framework for establishing a system of marine protected areas and parks, as well as the harmonized prior assessment of impacts from the many new and emerging activities taking place in the high seas.
This long-awaited resolution references in its preamble the commitment made by Heads of State at the Rio+20 Conference to take a decision by September 2015 on a new instrument, and also “stresses the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.” It also details the two-year preparatory process (PrepCom) which will begin in 2016 and culminate with a decision by the end of 2017 on whether to convene an intergovernmental conference . The PrepComs will meet for a total of 4 weeks in both 2016 and 2017, with the first PrepComs scheduled to take place at UN Headquarters from March 28-April 8, and August 29-September 12.
In addition, the PrepComs will have a single Chairperson (still to be determined) and will select a bureau to assist the chair on procedural issues, consisting of 10 persons, with 2 representatives from each regional group.
Over the next two years, governments will carefully explore and consider the range of options and detailed proposals of the elements that could comprise the treaty, including conservation measures such as area-based management tools (including marine protected areas and reserves), environmental impact assessments, marine genetic resources, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology. High Seas Alliance members applaud and welcome the adoption of this important resolution, though it is only the first step toward achieving a “wave of change” in the way our ocean is governed.
To read the full text of the resolution see: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/69/L.65