States support further action to protect biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction while setting aside the most contentious issues

08 May 2008 | News story

The outcome of the meeting of the UN Working Group on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction - a Co-Chairs’ joint statement - reflects growing support for a series of short and medium term steps to address weaknesses and gaps in implementation, regulation and governance of human activities affecting marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

 As mandated by 2006 and 2007 United Nations General Assembly resolutions, the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group of the United Nations General Assembly to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (“Working Group”) considered: 

·     the environmental impacts of anthropogenic activities on marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction;

·     coordination and cooperation among States, as well as relevant intergovernmental organizations and bodies, for the conservation and management of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction;

·     the role of area-based management tools;

·     genetic resources beyond areas of national jurisdiction; and

·     whether there is a governance or regulatory gap, and if so, how it should be addressed.

 

Throughout the week, the delegations at the Working Group exchanged views on the issues amidst differences of opinion over the existence of regulatory and governance gaps in the current international legal fabric.  (see attachment for IUCN statement)  The ad hoc and informal nature of the Working Group facilitated a fairly open discussion that allowed for the identification of some common views on a number of issues, such as the recognition that the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention represents the overarching framework of all human activities in the oceans and that implementation gaps seriously undermine the effectiveness of many international agreements. Many States also recognized the threats that some emerging uses of the ocean, such as iron fertilization and carbon sequestration, are likely to pose and suggested the need for mechanisms to address the environmental impacts of such activities, including the development of international guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments.

 

The majority of those who spoke also acknowledged the importance of coordination and cooperation as a means of addressing implementation gaps and as a way of supporting integrated ocean management mechanisms.  On area-based management tools, it was generally recognized that tools such as marine protected areas (“MPA”s) are very important, though some States expressed concern as to under what framework or entity they would be designated and management plans adopted.  It was suggested by several that the appropriate framework could be provided through the United Nations General Assembly.  Several delegations noted the need to make more progress towards achieving the World Summit on Sustainable Development goal of a representative network of MPAs by 2012; there was also significant support for the scientific and ecological criteria for the identification of marine areas in need of protection developed under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as support for further work to develop biogeographical and other ecological classification systems.

 

On the issue of marine genetic resources, some delegations suggested moving away from the debate over the legal status of such resources – a subject that continues to be contentious - by focusing on practical steps that would allow for the development of benefit-sharing arrangements and proposed that the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture could serve as a useful model.

 

Finally, the discussion on whether there is a governance or regulatory gap, and if so how it should be addressed was contentious.  While a few States denied the existence of governance or regulatory gaps, a majority of those who spoke acknowledged their existence and suggested a “toolbox” of options – short, medium (such as an implementing agreement) and long term – through which such gaps could be addressed.

 

The outcome of the meeting – a Co-Chairs’ joint statement to be transmitted to the President of the General Assembly and to be made available at its 63rd Session – reflects the discussions and identifies issues that the General Assembly may wish to consider referring to a future meeting of the Working Group.  These include:

 

·     More effective implementation and enforcement of existing instruments relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction;

·     The strengthening of cooperation and coordination at all levels and across all sectors, including enhanced cooperation in capacity building for developing countries;

·     The development and implementation of effective environmental impact assessments (EIAs) as a tool for improving oceans management;

·     Development and use of area-based management tools, including designation, management, monitoring and enforcement, consistent with the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention;

·     Practical measures to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, without prejudice to ongoing discussions on the relevant legal regime on marine genetic resources beyond areas of national jurisdiction; and

·     Continuing and enhanced marine scientific research in relation to marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.  

 

While the issues have been presented as a “package deal”, two States suggested that the Working Group not necessarily take up all the issues outlined. Finally, there was wide support for continuation of the Working Group as the appropriate forum for these discussions.  Most importantly, those States committed to advancing the issues suggested the importance of seizing the momentum and expressed support for the Working Group to reconvene in 2009.

Informative side events were held during the lunch breaks of the Working Group, including one organized by IUCN to present several papers done by experts through the IUCN Environmental Law Centre.  These papers included:

1) An Analysis of the Regulatory and Governance Gaps in the International Regime for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction,

2) Options for Addressing Regulatory and Governance Gaps in the International Regime for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction,

3) The Mid-Atlantic Ridge: A Case Study on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction

4) Elements of a Possible Implementation Agreement to UNCLOS for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction

 

The papers are posted at:  http://cms.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/environmental_law/index.cfm?uNewsID=857