As Intergovernmental Negotiations on New Ocean Treaty Continue, Delegates’ Divergent Views Emerge on Funding, Review Processes, Subsidiary Bodies
Delegates today grappled with the issue of funding sources for capacity‑building and the transfer of marine technology — as well as the most suitable monitoring and review processes in that arena — along with the matter of establishing subsidiary bodies, as the Intergovernmental Conference, tasked with drafting a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, continued its work.
Speakers throughout the eighth day of negotiations agreed that funding will be a key component of realizing the treaty’s provisions on capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology — which many described as some of the most crucial elements of the new high seas treaty. However, delegates voiced a range of opinions on the appropriate nature and sources of those funds, as well as which mechanisms or procedures should be established to generate them.
Several representatives, including Vanuatu’s delegate, described the sharing of technology as a “fundamental building block” for allowing all States to take part in the conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Funding should not be limited to just public and private sources, but should also include innovative sources, he stressed.
The representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, pointed out that small island developing States and least developed countries are currently provided special funding allocations or granted prioritized access in many existing multilateral agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate change. In keeping with that practice, she expressed support for the inclusion of language in the new treaty which would provide guidance or special support to such States.
Other speakers also advocated for provisions for States in special situations, including the representatives of Indonesia and the Philippines, with the latter expressing support for a proposed reference to “environmentally challenged and vulnerable States”.
Cameroon’s delegate, associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, cautioned that, without dedicated funding, many developing countries will not be able to participate in the conservation of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The representative of Kenya emphasized that the provision of adequate, accessible, sustainable and predictable funding will be crucial “for this new instrument to make any sense to us”. Pointing out that voluntary funding streams throughout the United Nations are currently neither adequate, accessible, sustainable or predictable, he warned that adhering to that model in the new treaty would be akin to “shooting ourselves in the foot”.
Australia’s representative, meanwhile, called for the broadening of proposed references to official development assistance (ODA). While expressing his support for a reference to small island developing States in the section on a voluntary trust fund, if such an instrument was established, he rejected proposed language that would create a mandatory funding mechanism.
Similarly, the representative of the United States also voiced support for the establishment of a voluntary funding stream, but noted that he was unable to support much of the proposed language to that effect, which, in its current form, remains too prescriptive. “Funding needs to be voluntary across the board,” he stressed, also rejecting language that would seek to establish either an operational fund, endowment fund, contingency fund or rehabilitation/liability fund.
Striking a different tone, Tuvalu’s representative, on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said the creation of an endowment fund will be essential to assist scientists from small island developing States and other developing countries to participate in research and conservation efforts.
Participants also addressed a section of the draft focused on monitoring and review processes related to capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.
Several speakers — including the representative of the European Union — voiced support for the leadership of States parties in that arena. Noting that the section on monitoring and review does not require significant detail, he advocated granting the Conference of Parties a mandate to review capacity-building and technology transfer as appropriate. A “slimmed-down” section on monitoring and review would therefore be preferable, he said.
Norway’s representative echoed the call for a less complicated monitoring and review process, cautioning that, in its current form much of the proposed language on that item pointed to a structure that could become too detailed and resource-demanding. The section should also take into account the fact that reporting is more difficult for some countries than for others, he said.
In a similar vein, the representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, called for every effort to ensure that reporting requirements consider the capacity constraints of States and do not become onerous.
Canada’s delegate, meanwhile, said she rejected proposed language that could be read to imply that parties will not be required to meet their obligations under the treaty’s capacity-building or technology transfer sections if they fail to obtain the necessary support. She also said that no special committee, body or auditing team will be needed to carry out monitoring and review functions.
Tuvalu’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, underlined the importance of capacity-building and marine technology transfer more broadly. As those constitute some of the treaty’s most crucial elements, he urged States parties to be prepared to demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to capacity-building and marine technology transfer for the benefit of all States.
Delegates also considered options for a brief introductory segment — or chapeau — under the broader section on capacity-building and marine technology transfer, as well as a set of general objectives and principles in those arenas.
In the afternoon, delegates turned their attention to cross-cutting issues, during which they expressed preliminary views on institutional arrangements, having discussed the matter previously in four working groups. Specifically, they debated the merits of establishing a decision-making body/forum, a scientific/ technical body, other subsidiary bodies and a secretariat. “We want to see coherence in what we are trying to build,” said the President of the Conference. “This will be an iterative process.”
Most delegates expressed support for the establishment of a Conference of Parties as a decision-making body of the implementing agreement. “We believe it is very important that it has its own supreme decision-making body,” the European Union’s delegate said, underscoring the need for an explicit provision on the first meeting of that body. It should be furnished with the functions necessary to achieve the objectives of the implementing agreement.
The representative of the Philippines, associating with the Group of 77, voiced support for the elaboration of institutional bodies and their functions within the instrument. However, the substantive aspects of instruments must be more fully elaborated before the institutional framework can be determined. “We can’t put the cart before the horse,” he said, nonetheless expressing a preference for a Conference of Parties or a Meeting of States Parties, as the instrument’s decision-making body.
The representative of Bangladesh proposed that the International Seabed Authority work as the Conference of Parties for the new agreement, also voicing support for the creation of a related finance committee.
On that point, Iceland’s delegate pointed out that, in negotiating an agreement, form does not follow function. Rather, the process is akin to a journey. “If you have no idea where you want to go, you do not know which road to take,” he said, expressing a preference for a Conference of Parties that was in line with the institutional arrangement of the Convention on Biodiversity. He also noted that he did not favour establishing a related assembly or council or making use of an existing body.
The representative of Nauru, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said her delegation is ready to consider the establishment of a Conference of Parties, which would ensure adherence to global standards and provide oversight. However, she said she disagreed that a potential scientific and technical body should be called a “scientific committee”, stressing the importance of technical competence. It also should not be an ad hoc committee.
Delegates had differing views on the establishment of a scientific and technical body, with Canada’s representative emphasizing that there are various possibilities for its composition. Generally, the body would need to have expertise in many areas, making it difficult to cover both scientific and technical matters. He urged limiting its focus to scientific issues and said important questions hinge on how its advisers would interact with Government representatives. He also said he did not envision a permanent body, but rather an entity that would meet on the margins of the Conference of Parties or as required.
Agreeing on that point, Monaco’s delegate voiced support for the creation of a scientific and technical body on the premise that all potential needs should be covered. As for format, it would likely need to meet more than once a year, he said.
Jamaica’s representative, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), likewise expressed support for the creation of a body with both scientific and technical expertise, which would be required for evidence-based decision making. Its operational procedures would evolve to respond to any issues requiring scientific advice, she said.
It was premature to discuss the role and functions of a scientific and technical body, the United States delegate stressed, as its structure would depend on the provisions in the agreement. He nonetheless encouraged an emphasis on expertise and attention to the appropriateness of its tasks. An ad-hoc format could be beneficial if it meant that the right scientific experts would meet periodically to discuss important issues. However, he said he did not favour a standing body if it meant that experts were constantly in session. The body would not be tasked to elaborate a benefit-sharing mechanism, nor monitor the use of marine genetic resources, he explained.
In considering establishing other subsidiary bodies, an observer for the Holy See proposed the creation of an economic and social committee that would act as a liaison with sectoral, regional and regulatory organizations so as to not undermine them and explore ways to cooperate. “This recognition would provide more than the public engagement process to ensure cooperative, coordinated action,” she said. More so, this group could provide advice to the Conference of Parties — rather than a binding recommendation — that could be considered alongside input by a scientific and technical committee. A formal means of collecting and analysing information beyond environmental elements, and related to economic and social factors, must be included, she emphasized, whether in the form of an advisory, finance, legal or other committee.
China’s delegate, associating himself with the Group of 77, said questions about subsidiary bodies — whether they would be permanent or ad hoc, and how they would be composed — would be answered once the relevant provisions in the instrument were determined. Generally, institutional arrangements should follow the principles of necessity, cost effectiveness, transparency and efficiency. Any new bodies should avoid duplication or compromising of mandates and functions of existing bodies.
Taking a different view, Colombia’s delegate, speaking for the like-minded Latin American States, said the new instrument did not need to consider the creation of any subsidiary bodies, as the decision-making body would establish them.
Most delegates agreed on the importance of establishing a secretariat to support the implementing agreement’s activities and functions at the global level. Some favoured direct language outlining its establishment, while others expressed a preference for language clarifying that the decision-making body would designate a Secretariat from among existing international organizations.
The Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority favoured all options that facilitate cooperation and align with rights and obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, notably in areas where there are existing frameworks. Tampering with existing frameworks for responsibilities might open more questions than answers, he said, voicing hope that the outcome of the Conference’s negotiations would be an agreement to implement certain provisions of the Convention, and not a stand-alone accord.
In broad terms, the representative of the Russian Federation proposed an institutional model that was hierarchical, “not too bureaucratic” and as cost‑effective as possible. He proposed that no language be included in the agreement that would set out any institutional arrangements.
Also speaking on funding, monitoring and review, and objectives were representatives of the Republic of Korea, Togo, Sri Lanka, Japan, Russian Federation, Morocco, State of Palestine (for the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Algeria (for the African Group), Bahamas (for CARICOM), Federated States of Micronesia, Singapore, India, China, Seychelles, Paraguay (for the Land‑Locked Least Developing States), Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran, Thailand, New Zealand and Mauritius.
A representative of the International Council of Environmental Law also participated in those discussions.
Also speaking on cross-cutting issues were representatives of the State of Palestine (for the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Algeria (for the African Group), Belize (for the Alliance of Small Island States), Nauru (for the Pacific small island developing States), Thailand, Norway, New Zealand, Cameroon, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Australia and Sri Lanka.
Representatives of the High Seas Alliance, International Cable Protection Committee, Worldwide Fund for Nature and the North Pacific Fisheries Commission also participated in those discussions.
The Intergovernmental Conference will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 April, to continue its work.