Two-thirds of the world's oceans lie beyond national jurisdiction. These areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) are of key importance for food security, carbon capture and scientific research. However, despite their importance, these areas have suffered from a lack of a governance framework that can ensure their conservation and sustainable use. To remedy this, the UN has started a diplomatic process on an international legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In early November this year, IUCN held a workshop for participants in this process to discuss potential elements of that instrument.
In cooperation with the Governments of New Zealand and Mexico, IUCN hosted a workshop that brought together representatives from two dozen governments, as well as legal and scientific experts, to explore issues that will come up in the upcoming negotiations on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. The workshop discussions were based on a matrix of different options for a new international instrument. The matrix was developed by IUCN, working with partners and experts from around the world. It provides comprehensive information on potential elements of a new instrument relating to marine genetic resources, marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and technology transfer. It is supported by a series of policy briefs on different technical issues in addressing biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.
Pressure to take action to address marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction has been building for many years, coming into focus at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), where States committed themselves "to address, on an urgent basis ... the issue of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."
This commitment tied into discussions already underway by an Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group charged with studying issues relating to biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). In 2013, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) requested the Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument. In its 9th meeting, in January 2015, the BBNJ Working Group recommended that the UNGA decide in favour of developing an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction.
In UNGA Resolution 69/292 of 19th June 2015, the UNGA adopted the BBNJ Working Group's recommendations, and decided to create a Preparatory Committee open to all States Members of the United Nations, members of specialized agencies and parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, with others invited as observers in accordance with past practice of the UN. The committee will meet at least twice in 2016 and twice in 2017 to develop substantive recommendations to the General Assembly on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument. These recommendations will be considered at an intergovernmental conference to be set up by the UNGA before the end of its 72nd session.
The negotiation process will address multiple elements of a new instrument, including in particular: 1) marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits; 2) measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas; 3) environmental impact assessments; and 4) capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.
The IUCN workshop addressed each of these issues. Over the course of two days, discussion ranged from the very conceptual -- i.e. the meaning and significance of the Common Heritage of Humankind and Freedom of the High Seas -- to the very practical -- i.e. mechanisms for tracing the origin of marine genetic resources, or processes for including researchers from developing countries on scientific cruises to build capacity and facilitate participation. Political realities were acknowledged, but a spirit of optimism prevailed -- that we can build an agreement that includes meaningful measures to build cooperation, promote fairness, and ensure conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity across the ocean and sea floor.
IUCN's work in this area has been generously funded by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) with funds from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). Additional support for the workshop was provided by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the High Seas Alliance.