Jan 26 2015

After almost 10 years, progress towards new agreement on high seas


At the January 2015 meeting of the BBNJ Working Group, States took the historic step of agreeing to open negotiations for a new legally binding international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

During the previous meeting (June 2014), a strong coalition for the opening negotiations developed, with longstanding proponents such as the EU and G77 being joined by the newly vocal States of the African Union, Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Pacific. However, some key states, including the US, Canada and Russia, remained reluctant to open negotiations for a new UNCLOS IA, concerned that the need for such an agreement had not been established, and that a new global instrument could interfere with existing regional and sectoral arrangements.

At this meeting, the third and final meeting on the question of opening negotiations, these divisions continued, but States were finally able to reach a compromise following intensive discussions that lasted until the early hours of the morning. States clashed over the question of whether the discussions should lead to legally binding instrument and whether or not the Preparatory Commission would make substantive recommendations on the elements of an international legally binding instrument. There had been some concern that the recommendations from the Working Group would essentially lead to little more than a continuation of the same informal UN discussions. As part of reaching consensus, no deadline was set for finalising the treaty.

The Working Group recommends the establishment of a preparatory committee, prior to an intergovernmental conference, to make substantive recommendations on the elements of a draft text. This preparatory committee shall start its work in 2016 and will report to the UNGA on progress by the end of 2017. The Working Group recommends that the UNGA decide on the convening and on the starting date of an intergovernmental conference before the end of its seventy-second session. The recommendations reaffirm the package deal agreed on in 2011, namely: marine genetic resources; area-based management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; and capacity building and technology transfer.

The recommendations will now be approved by the UNGA by September 2015, with work to begin in the Preparatory Committee next year.

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Jun 30 2014

An update from the BBNJ working group

The catchily titled Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction recently met in New York (June 16-19). This was the second of three meetings convened to discuss the possibility of negotiating a new international agreement on high seas biodiversity. I was live tweeting the event using the #BBNJ hashtag, and IISD has released their briefing on the discussions. IDDRI and IASS will shortly publish a briefing paper on the negotiations, focussing on next steps towards a potential agreement.

In short, the negotiations continued the positive and collaborative spirit established during the last meeting in April, and there is now a clear and vocal majority in favour of negotiating a new agreement. Nonetheless, many questions remain unanswered, and there are a number of key debates that will likely necessitate a lengthy and intense negotiation process.

The EU and the G77 and China continue to argue for an IA to UNCLOS, and they are now joined by African Union, the Caribbean Community, and the Pacific States, while a handful os States remain reluctant to negotiate a new IA, including the US, Russia, Canada, Korea, Japan and Iceland.

The June meeting saw some convergence on a number of issues. There was broad support for maintaining the deadline set at Rio+20 and avoiding a prolongation of the current process. States also agree that UNCLOS provides the authority for such an agreement and that it should form the basis of negotiations and that  negotiations must follow the package deal agreed in 2011. There is also an emerging consensus in favour of focussing on the practical realities of ABS rather than on legal debates regarding resource ownership.

Beyond these limited elements of convergence, a number of debates on substantive issues intensified and demonstrated the likely ‘battle lines’ of future negotiations, including:

  • whether an IA should fill only legal gaps or whether it should have a broader vision;
  • how an IA will respect the mandates of existing organisations;
  • how fisheries will be treated;
  • the role of a new IA in implementing and enforcing EIA and MPAs;
  • the relevance of the distinction between the regional and global approaches to oceans governance; and
  • eventual institutional arrangements

The working group will have one more meeting in January 2015 to formulate its recommendations to the UN General Assembly in August, yet many questions remain about how this process will proceed.

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Jan 20 2014

European Commission to Focus on Marine Renewables

The European Commission today announced an action plan for marine renewables, including the creation of an energy forum and strategic roadmap by 2016, and a European Industrial Initiative by 2020. The Communication on Ocean Energy was launched at a press conference hosted by The European Commissioner for Fisheries & Maritime Affairs, Maria Damanaki and the European Commissioner for Energy, Gunther Oettinger.

The new Ocean Energy Forum will “devise workable solutions” to issues the industry faces, such as the difficult investment climate to the challenges of maintenance in the marine environment. “Improving the affordability, reliability, survivability, operability and stability of ocean energy devices is essential,” says the communication, which focuses on the ‘blue economy’ and the economic opportunities provided by Europe’s seas.

To this end, an impact assessment accompanying the document notes that as many as 40,000 jobs could be created by 2035, with Europe’s marine renewables  industry aspiring to install 100GW of generation capacity by 2050. However the lack of strong grid connections to resource-rich areas, supply chain weaknesses and regulatory impediments are hampering growth. Few commercial-scale devices are currently deployed and the industry must shift from demonstration and prototype to commercialisation.

The proposed Forum could be a crucial aspect of this process. The Forum will bring together industry, politicians and academics with financial institutions to create a support framework for new projects.

Sian George, the CEO of Ocean Energy Europe told EurActiv

Ocean energy projects are seen as quite high risk and attracting large investment is challenging because of ocean energy’s offshore nature… The private sector has been taking the lion’s share of the risk for a number of years and we are really pleased to see the commission taking a strategic position in coordinating future investment and support from member states, the commission and industry

A strategic roadmap would set “clear targets for the industrial development of the sector as well as a timeframe for their achievement” the Commission says.

A second phase (2017-2020) would see the creation of a European Industrial Initiative to mobilise investment through public-private partnerships. Remi Gruet, policy director for the EU-funded Ocean Energy Association, noted the significance of the focus on marine renewables:

The Commission has only done a very few communications about single energy technologies; biomass in 2004 and offshore wind in 2008… The fact that they’re doing it for ocean now reflects a need to invest today in a technology that can deliver parts of the European energy mix tomorrow.

The communication does however note that research is needed to address any environmental risk that marine renewables may pose.

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