Delegates Tackle Parameters, Definitions for Capacity-Building, Transfer of Marine Technology, as Intergovernmental Negotiations on New High Seas Treaty Continues
The Intergovernmental Conference drafting the first‑ever legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity continued negotiations today, with delegates concluding discussions on the obligation to conduct environmental impact assessments of activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction and then focusing on how the new treaty should handle capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology among States parties.
The morning’s discussions centred on the extent to which States — or the proponents of planned activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction — would be responsible for carrying out environmental impact assessments under the new marine biodiversity agreement.
The new agreement, stressed the European Union’s representative, should operationalize obligations set out in articles 204-206 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, she voiced support for an activity‑oriented approach for assessing environmental impacts, based on the location of the activity. The new agreement should only address activities carried out in areas beyond national jurisdiction. A reference to “all activities” could cover acts in a national jurisdiction, such as an exclusive economic zone. References to a State’s “effective control” over planned activities could be interpreted as too restrictive.
While many delegates agreed that States should assess potential environmental impacts in accordance with their obligations under the Convention, many took issue with including a reference in the new agreement to customary international law, with Uruguay’s representative, on behalf of the like-minded Latin American countries, pointing out that international law captures both treaty law and customary law.
Norway’s delegate said that, if the new agreement contains such a reference, delegates must specify which aspects of customary international law to include, a point on which Iceland’s delegate concurred, as a broad reference would be “too wide and need context”. Cameroon’s representative, meanwhile, did not share such concerns, pointing out that a reference to customary law could simply refer to States’ practice in carrying out environmental impact assessments.
While the delegate of Iran recommended that the idea be further discussed, Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed a preference for language that captures the obligations under articles 204-206, rather than a more narrowed focus on article 206.
The morning discussion also touched on how environmental impact assessments would relate to similar processes under existing legal instruments, as well as relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies. On that point, Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate, speaking for CARICOM, stressed that, where such bodies exist and support such work, the new instrument should not undermine their effectiveness.
The representative of Norway voiced support for the idea of consultation and coordination among bodies managing the oceans. He cautioned against establishing structures for those efforts, noting that the Conference of Parties would have important role. To the idea that the new agreement would constitute global standards and minimum requirements for environmental impact assessments, he said such a reference should not imply that other bodies were bound to those provisions. “We want to outline procedures and principles regarding transparency that other bodies would do well to try and fulfil,” he clarified.
Delegates then turned their attention to how the new agreement would treat capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology among States parties, including in in defining the functions for a clearing house to evaluate, publish and disseminate information.
Broad agreement emerged among many delegations on the inclusion of a non-exhaustive list of the types and activities of capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology. Delegates diverged more sharply on how to elaborate a list of related modalities, as well as the appropriate functions of a proposed clearinghouse — or “knowledge repository” — instrument. They also deliberated matters related to intellectual property rights, with some describing the latter as a proactive enabler of technology transfer and others viewing it as a barrier.
The European Union’s representative said the types of capacity-building and technology transfer are generally understood, following agreement on International Oceanographic Commission guidelines. The new agreement should set out broad types — such as production, exchange of knowledge and equipment. It should also address both institutional and individual capacity-building, as well as assistance in the identification of needs and in the formulation of support requests that are aligned with the goals of the new agreement. There could also be a mandate for a specific body to offer guidance on such matters, one ideally that would have States parties acting collectively to provide guidance when they see fit.
As for the modalities, the representative of the Bahamas, speaking for CARICOM, underscored that capacity-building and technology transfer should respond to the needs of developing countries — especially small island developing States — and ensure that the new agreement is immediately operational.
Tuvalu’s delegate, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said commercial interests and intellectual property should not determine how capacity-building and technology transfer are handled. He described the term “marine technology” as limiting, suggesting that “marine technology and relevant biotechnology” is better in order to incorporate the tools and analytics relevant to the marine environment. He drew attention to the Convention’s article 244 on promoting information flow, including knowledge derived from marine scientific research for education programmes.
New Zealand’s delegate, voicing support for the inclusion of a list of the types and activities of capacity-building and technology transfer, nevertheless warned that such a list could become obsolete should it be too specific. Describing the new treaty as an opportunity for inclusiveness, she urged consideration of small island developing States in the section on capacity‑building and the transfer of marine technology.
The representative of the Russian Federation joined those speakers who supported the inclusion of a list of the types and activities of capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology, while stressing that it should be indicative in nature but not obligatory or exhaustive.
The representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States and associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, also echoed support for the inclusion of a list. On the “evolving needs of States and regions”, she said the identification of such needs will likely require a subsidiary body and that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity and other instruments could serve as sources of inspiration. She also joined others in calling for the transfer of marine technology “in a fair and reasonable manner through favourable terms and conditions”.
China’s representative, associating herself with the Group of 77, said her delegation has long supported the transfer of marine technology to developing countries, small island developing States and other countries in special situations. A detailed list of the types and activities of capacity-building and marine technology transfer should be carefully discussed, she said, stressing that the list currently included in the draft is too long, too complicated and fails to meet the needs of all parties.
Jamaica’s delegate, associating herself with the Group of 77, Alliance of Small Island States and CARICOM, said capacity-building and technology transfer should be sufficiently varied both in scope and content as to respond to the different needs that could arise. Those processes must be needs-driven and provided in a cooperative manner, she stressed.
The representative of the United States agreed that the treaty’s provisions on capacity-building and marine technology transfer should be needs-driven and based on cooperation and partnership. On modalities, he noted his agreement with other speakers on the need to strike the right level of detail, resulting in a flexible instrument “that fits our purposes”. If a list of modalities were to be included, it should be broad and non-binding, and be considered and revised as needed.
Honduras’ delegate, speaking for the like-minded Latin American countries, echoed others in calling for a non-exhaustive list of types and activities — with periodic adjustments — and suggested that such a list could be streamlined and annexed to the treaty text. Underlining the need for more efforts to elaborate the section on modalities, she said the “evaluation of needs” would be triggered by the requesting State and therefore requires no inclusion of additional text.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, stressed that the States supplying technology to others should be able to determine the types and modalities of transfer for themselves, while keeping in mind the needs and capabilities of receiving States.
Singapore’s delegate said the functions of the proposed clearinghouse mechanism should be streamlined to exclude activities that do not fall under its remit. On the sections relating to intellectual property rights, he said he rejected language implying that the latter constitute obstacles to the marine technology transfer. Intellectual property rights are, in fact, enablers of such information‑sharing, he stressed.
The representative of Senegal, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, echoed other speakers in noting that the list of types and activities is too long and should focus more on the most relevant activities. Calling for language that would “ease the rigidity” of such a list, she also joined with previous speakers in expressing the view that, as intellectual property rights are already part of other international instruments, they are irrelevant in the current context.
As the day concluded, participants opened a new discussion — to be continued on 3 April — on the nature and sources of funding for capacity-building and marine technology transfer. Those ranged from voluntary to mandatory, to both voluntary and mandatory, and from public to private sources to various combinations thereof.
Also speaking today on the topic of environmental impact assessments were representatives of the State of Palestine (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Solomon Islands (for the Pacific small island developing States), India, United States, Canada, Iceland, Switzerland, Indonesia, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines and Australia.
An observer of the Holy See also spoke, as did representatives from the International Maritime Organization, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission and Greenpeace (for the High Seas Alliance).
Representatives of the International Cable Protection Committee, Natural Resources Defence Council (for the High Seas Alliance) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature Delegates also participated in discussions on the environmental impact assessment.
Also speaking on the topics of capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology were representatives of the State of Palestine (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Algeria (for the African Group), India, Norway, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Canada, Nigeria, Peru, Paraguay (for the Landlocked Least Developed States Group), Switzerland and Eritrea, as well as the European Union.
Representatives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council of Environmental Law also participated in that discussion.
The Intergovernmental Conference will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 April, to continue its work.