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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