New Oceans Treaty Must Be Robust, Practical in Application, Delegates Stress, Closing Third Round of Marine Biodiversity Negotiations
Delegates elaborating the terms of a new treaty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea pledged to continue negotiating in the spirit of cooperation and good faith, as the Intergovernmental Conference tasked with drafting a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity concluded its third session today.
As the penultimate round of negotiations drew to a close, many speakers expressed their hope that the new treaty — slated to be completed in 2020 — will be both robust in its scope and practical in its application. They also emphasized the need for continued cooperation and political will ahead of the fourth and final round of talks in March.
“I will review all the proposals that have been submitted,” said Raina Lee (Singapore), President of the Conference, in closing remarks, also pledging to consider the inputs and synthesize and revise the text. Many proposals have been made during the last two weeks. “Where possible I will streamline,” she assured, acknowledging calls for the text to be provided as soon as possible. Describing the scale of work ahead as “huge”, she raised the possibility of a significant lag in issuing a translated text. It is likely that there will be more parallel sessions, including “informal-informal” consultations, “because we have to step up the pace of our work”. Several delegations noted that the Conference should complete its work by its fourth session in 2020, she said, while others welcomed taking the time to achieve an agreement satisfactory to all.
Speakers welcomed strides made throughout the session, which was the Conference’s first round of negotiations to be based on a “zero draft” of the treaty (document A/CONF.232/2019/6). Several made recommendations aimed at streamlining the Conference’s fourth and final round of talks.
The representative of the European Union, underscoring his delegation’s commitment to continue to work towards the new treaty’s completion, stressed: “We need to move to the next level, beyond just stating our opinions.” Noting that the draft treaty provided a good basis for the session, he said it would be useful to revise it and narrow down textual alternatives so that the new iteration reflects the discussions of the past two weeks. Calling for that document to be provided to delegations as early as possible, he said the intersessional period should be used as effectively as possible. “The world is watching us,” he stressed. “We want the [Conference] to send a strong message in favour of protecting our oceans in a collaborative manner.”
The observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, pledged to continue negotiating in good faith “and with the strongest focus on the values we are seeking to embody in this instrument”. The updated draft should reflect the Group’s positions, including that the principle of common heritage of humankind should guide and underpin the new legal regime for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction — including the access and sharing of benefits of marine genetic resources. He reiterated that neither participation in the Conference nor its outcome may affect the legal status of non-parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea or any related instruments.
The representative of Belize, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and associating herself with the Group of 77, described the current session as a turning point for negotiations on the new oceans treaty. In particular, working from a draft and using “informal-informal” meetings provided good bases for making progress. Calling for the early release of a revised text that best captures the current session’s discussions, she urged delegates to continue to work together. She also underlined the importance of the Voluntary Trust Fund to assist developing countries, in particular least developed countries and small island developing States, in attending the meetings of the Conference.
Tuvalu’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the new treaty should be more ambitious and practical than existing frameworks. Underlining the urgent need to fill gaps in the conservation and sustainable use of areas beyond national jurisdiction — but without undermining existing regimes — he urged participants to go beyond the status quo. “Anything weaker than the relevant existing frameworks […] will leave us with an instrument that is ineffective and that may not add any practical value to the existing oceans governance,” he said. He recommended that the new treaty recognize and incorporate the relevant traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities; be inclusive and “leave no one behind”; provide adequate consideration for adjacent coastal States and promote transparency.
The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, added his voice to those supporting the principle of the common heritage of humankind. Requesting the early release of a revised draft of the treaty — which should include consensus elements, as well as those supported by the majority of delegations — he proposed that it maintain the same overall structure as the current “zero draft”. Expressing hope that the intersessional period will allow for more consultations, he said discussions on the possible convening of a fifth session should be conducted during the intersessional period and encouraged all those countries in a position to do so to contribute to the Voluntary Trust fund for developing countries.
The representative of Paraguay, speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, welcomed the constructive spirit demonstrated throughout the session. “The result of this process must be balanced and must address the concerns of all countries, taking into account specific challenges and vulnerabilities,” he said. In that context, he called for a focus on the freedom of the high seas; the common heritage of humankind; protection and preservation of the marine environment; access to and fair and equitable benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources; and both capacity-building and transfer of marine technology.
The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said a revised negotiating text should be prepared and made available to delegations by November, allowing sufficient time for consideration before the March 2020 session. Calling for an increased number of “informal-informal” negotiations at that session, she said the number of informal working group meetings should be kept to a minimum and potentially replaced by two plenary meetings — one at the outset of the session and one at the end. She also called for parallel meetings to be held only when absolutely required and for the number of side events to be limited.
The representative of Chile, on behalf of Like-Minded Latin American States, stressed the need to provide the Conference of Parties with the capacity to create zonal management mechanisms, including marine protected areas. It should also be able to make recommendations to enhance both cooperation and the coherence of measures taken by other instruments, bodies or legal frameworks. He further called for the rights of coastal States to be included in the instrument, as well as a focus on the specific needs of middle-income developing countries.
The representative of Fiji, speaking on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States, cautioned against a major streamlining effort that will produce a significantly different draft text and require extensive coordination prior to the fourth Intergovernmental Conference. China’s delegate, meanwhile, said his country was ready to communicate with all parties to arrive at a text that is acceptable to all and inclusive in nature. The representative of the Russian Federation welcomed the “change in dynamics”, expressing hope that this trend will not only continue but also step up, allowing delegations to move towards a consensus outcome. “There is a long road ahead,” he said.
Making a similar point, the Philippines’ representative declared: “We must remember that, at the end of the day, we live in a common world and sail within a single sea.” Calling for political will to reach an agreement that benefits humanity as a whole, he said the principle of common heritage of humankind must anchor the new treaty, reflecting the rights and jurisdiction of adjacent coastal States and the situation of environmentally vulnerable countries. The instrument should also incorporate the precautionary principle and be imbued with transparency, she said, outlining her delegation’s views in the areas of marine genetic resources, area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, capacity-building and marine technology transfer and cross-cutting issues.
Also today, facilitators of the Conference’s informal working groups provided overviews of their deliberations, covering: marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits; measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology; and cross-cutting issues.
The Conference also adopted the third report of its Credential Committee (document A/CONF.232/2019/9), presented by its chair, Carl Grainger (Ireland).
The representative of Peru — speaking for the Lima Group (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru), as well as the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Georgia, Israel, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and the United States — said the adoption of the credentials committee’s report should not be construed as a tacit recognition of the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, whom those countries do not recognize as President.
Venezuela’s representative rejected that statement as an attempt to distract from the Conference’s important work. “They aim to discredit the credentials of our representative, and thus, undermine the right to self-determination of individuals,” he said. Describing a similar tactic used in March at the Second High-Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation in Buenos Aires, which failed, he said those attempts lack any legal foundation. Moreover, they undermine the privileges of all Member States and violate the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibits States from interfering in the domestic affairs of others.
Cuba’s representative — along with her counterpart from Iran — said using the Conference to carry out regime change policies against a democratically elected leader is unprecedented and unacceptable, and she strongly rejected that politicization. The representative of the Russian Federation agreed, suggesting that statements to that effect be excluded from the credentials committee’s report. However, the representative of the United States rejected that proposal, stressing that it is improper to modify any interventions attributed to another delegation.
The representatives of Nicaragua and China also expressed support for Venezuela’s sovereignty and its right to self-determination. The latter pointed out that the General Assembly, at its seventy-third session, accepted the credentials of that country’s representatives.
Delegates also heard a statement by Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli, Director of the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea in the Office of Legal Affairs, on the status of the Voluntary Trust Fund to assist least developing countries in attending meetings of the Preparatory Committee and the Intergovernmental Conference.
She reported that the Trust Fund facilitated the participation of five delegates from least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States in the current session. Although the dates of the next Conference are yet to be determined, it is likely that States will be invited to again submit applications. She underlined the need to sustain the Trust Fund, recalling that contributions can be made by Member States and also non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.
Also delivering general statements were representatives of Ecuador, Federated States of Micronesia, Japan, Canada, United States, Sri Lanka, Norway, Sierra Leone, Iceland, Turkey, Republic of Korea and Egypt.
Also participating were speakers from the African Union, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), International Maritime Organization (IMO), High Seas Alliance, and the International Council of Environmental Law.