Story | 14 Sep, 2018

States convene for Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction conference to develop a global treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of the high seas, by Nilufer Oral

IUCN and WCEL Members participated in the first United Nations session of the intergovernmental conference working toward an international binding legal instrument under UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The first session of the intergovernmental conference laying the foundation for a binding international legal instrument under UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction – known as “BBNJ” -- began 4 September 2018 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The room was filled to capacity as Session President Ambassador Rena Lee of Singapore opened this historic event underlining that the objective was a fair, balanced and effective outcome.

Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Secretary-General of the Conference, highlighted in his opening statement that “Oceans and the essential ecosystems they provide are vital to life on this planet.”

The first order of business was the adoption of the Agenda followed by the appointment of thematic group Chairs (areas-based management tools; Environmental Impact Assessment; Marine Genetic Resources (MGR); capacity building; and technology transfer) and the establishment of the BBNJ Bureau.

The first round of statements by States were made by: G-77 and China, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries Group, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Small Island Developing States, the Group of Landlocked States, and the European Union.  Individual States and Civil Society with observer status also made statements. 

WCEL Steering Committee Member Professor Nilufer Oral and WCEL Oceans, Coasts, and Coral Reefs Specialist Group Chair Cymie Payne participated in the historic First Intergovernmental Conference.  

Lydia Slobodian, Legal Officer of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, delivered the IUCN statement. WCEL partner, International Council on Environmental Law (ICEL), also delivered remarks. The IUCN statement outlined six key messages for States:

First, experience has shown that facilitation of developing countries’ access to and research involving marine genetic resources has the potential to improve and enhance scientific and technical advances for both developing and developed countries. 

Second, a representative and integrated network of marine protected areas will support connectivity, climate change resilience, and conservation of key ecosystems. A long-term strategic plan with science-based global priorities can support creation of such a network. 

Third, protected areas can have a wide range of conservation aims, management measures and governance structures. Inclusion of different types of marine protected areas, ranging from strictly protected marine reserves to marine protected areas allowing ecologically sustainable use supports creation of a broad and inclusive network. 

Fourth, cumulative impacts from different types of activities create a difficult threat to marine biodiversity that is not easy to address through sectoral measures. Strategic Environment Assessments can be used to ensure earlier consideration of cumulative impacts and a holistic ecosystem perspective. 

Fifth, there is a need for technical expertise in governance of the global ocean. A Scientific and Technical Body could effectively and independently guide, advise, and evaluate and provide assistance during the scoping, monitoring, and review processes for environmental impact assessments and marine protected areas, and other processes as appropriate. 

Sixth and finally, a clearing house approach will facilitate communication, cooperation and coordination in capacity building and other aspects of the agreement to address the problem of fragmented initiatives.

The news article for the second and third days of the conference is forthcoming.

Nilufer Oral       Photo: WCEL
Nilufer Oral

Chair Emeritus of the WCEL Oceans, Coasts and Coral Reefs Specialist Group