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Sunday, February 28, 2021
Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the U.N., is co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), along with Dr Liesbeth Lijnzaad of the Netherlands.
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS) - After almost 10 years of often frustrating negotiations, the U.N. ad hoc committee on BBNJ decided, by consensus, to set in motion a process that will result in work commencing on a legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use, including benefit sharing, of Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction.
As a consequence, the General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution in the summer of 2015 establishing a preparatory committee to begin work in 2016 which will be mandated to propose the elements of a treaty in 2017, to be adopted by an intergovernmental conference.
The Ad Hoc Working Group, established in 2006, has been meeting regularly since then. In 2010, for the first time, it adopted a set of recommendations which were elaborated methodically until the momentous decision on Saturday.
This decision will impact significantly on the biggest source of biodiversity on the globe.
The political commitment of the global community on BBNJ was clearly stated in the 2012 Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”, largely at the insistence of a small group of countries which included Argentina, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the European Union (EU).
It recognised the importance of an appropriate global mechanism to sustainably manage marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.
In 2013, GA resolution A/69/L.29 mandated the UN Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the 69th Session of the GA.
During the past few years our understanding of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction has advanced exponentially. The critical need to conserve and sustainably use this vast and invaluable resource base is now widely acknowledged.
The water surface covers 70 percent of the earth. This marine environment constitutes over 90 percent of the volume of the earth’s biosphere, nurturing many complex ecosystems important to sustain life and livelihoods on land. Two thirds of this environment is located in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The contribution of oceans to the global economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.
With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents based on them are being filed annually.
The value of these patents is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is increasingly obvious that mankind must conserve the resources of the oceans and the associated ecosystems and use them sustainably, including for the development of new substances.
At the same time, unprecedented challenges confront the marine environment and ecosystems. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean warming, coral bleach and ocean acidification, to name a few, pose a severe threat to marine biological resources. Many communities and livelihoods dependent on them are at risk.
While 2.8 percent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine protected areas, only 0.79 percent of such areas are located beyond national jurisdiction. In recent times, these protected areas have become a major asset in global efforts to conserve endangered species, habitats and ecosystems.
While the management of areas within national jurisdictions is a matter primarily for states, the areas beyond are the focus of the challenge that confronted the U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group.
Developing countries have insisted that benefits, including financial benefits, from products developed using marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction must be shared equitably.
The concept that underpinned this proposition could be said to be an evolution of the common heritage of mankind concept incorporated in UNCLOS.
The Ad-Hoc Working Group acknowledged that UNCLOS, sometimes described as the constitution of the oceans, served as the overarching legal framework for the oceans and seas. Obviously, there was much about the oceans that the world did not know in 1982 when the UNCLOS was concluded.
Given humanity’s considerably better understanding of the oceans at present, especially on the areas beyond national jurisdiction, the majority of participants in the Ad Hoc Working Group pushed for a new legally binding instrument to address the issue of BBNJ.
Last Saturday’s decision underlined that the mandates of existing global and regional instruments and frameworks not be undermined; that duplication be avoided and consistency with UNCLOS maintained.
The challenge before the international community as it approaches the next stage is to identify with care the areas that will be covered by the proposed instrument in order to optimize the goal of conservation of marine biodiversity. It should contribute to building ocean resilience, provide comprehensive protection for ecologically and biologically significant areas, and enable ecosystems time to adapt.
The framework for sharing the benefits of research and developments relating to marine organisms needs to be crafted sensitively. Private corporations which are investing heavily in this area prefer legal certainty and clear workable rules.
An international instrument must establish a framework which includes an overall strategic vision that encompasses the aspirations of both developed and developing countries, particularly in the area of benefit sharing.
Facilitating the exchange of information between States will be essential to achieve the highest standards in conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. They will need continued capacity building so that they can contribute effectively to the goal of sustainable use of such resources and benefit from scientific and technological developments.
To address the effects of these complex dynamics, the proposed instrument must adopt a global approach, involving both developed and developing countries.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
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