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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