Intergovernmental Conference President Urges Delegations to Exercise Flexibility, Deliver Final Draft of Oceans Treaty on Biodiversity, as Fifth Session Begins
The Intergovernmental Conference to draft the first-ever treaty on the ocean’s biological diversity opened its fifth and likely final session today, amid calls for flexibility, openness and the spirit of compromise that prevailed in 1982, when the landmark “constitution for the oceans” was adopted, setting out the legal framework for all activities in the oceans and seas.
The fifth session — which runs until 26 August — was convened following General Assembly decision 76/564, adopted in May. It is expected to be the final in a series set in motion since 2018 to draft an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. (For more information on the first session, please see Press Release SEA/2076).
“I am hopeful that we can make real progress in these two weeks, with the aim of finalizing the agreement as soon as possible,” said Intergovernmental Conference President Rena Lee (Singapore), rallying delegates to roll up their sleeves as they delve into the technical and legal details and urging them to “bring the ship to shore”.
Recalling that the four previous sessions were mandated by resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, she said negotiations are to address marine genetic resources, including questions on benefit-sharing, measures such as area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology. Having studied all proposals made since the fourth session, she prepared a further revised draft of an agreement (document A/CONF.232/2022/5).
She said delegates were also asked to submit textual proposals for the fifth session, noting that an article-by-article compilation was issued in early August. Informal background documents were also provided to delegations. They included, among others, two documents that had been requested on resource requirements, should the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea be designated as Secretariat under the agreement, and a document on global ocean financing.
Noting calls for the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference this year, she urged Member States to “squeeze our creative juices to find solutions that can garner consensus” and to exercise utmost flexibility to find the consensus needed. “Over the next two weeks, let us strive to deliver on an agreement that will be fair, balanced, implementable and which will attract universal participation,” she said. “Let us not let the perfect be the enemy of good”.
Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, United Nations Legal Counsel, and Secretary-General of the Intergovernmental Conference, welcomed delegates to the “critical” fifth session, taking place on the heels of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. During the summit — held from 27 June to 1 July — all stakeholders across society gathered with the aim of reversing the deteriorating health, resilience and productivity of the ocean and its resources.
He expressed hope that the hundreds of commitments made in Lisbon will quickly translate into action, including the many calls made for the Intergovernmental Conference to promptly conclude its work. “What better way to signal our determination to act, than finalizing a robust agreement that ensures the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in the largest spaces of the ocean,” he asked.
At this critical stage, it is time to demonstrate the true spirit of multilateral cooperation, he said, with a focus on finding compromise. He expressed hope that delegates will exercise even greater flexibility to ensure the ocean “gets what it urgently needs” and not let marine biodiversity collapse on their watch. He also expressed his wish to welcome a new agreement into “the law of the sea family” later this year, when the world celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the Law of the Sea Convention.
Vladimir Jares, Director of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs, then described all documents available for the meeting, including the article-by-article compilation of textual proposals submitted by delegations by 25 July 2022 in response to the invitation by the Conference President in her Note of 1 June 2022 (document A/CONF.232/2022/INF.5); and a Note by the Secretariat (document A/CONF.232/2022/INF.4).
Several delegations then took the floor, with representatives of the European Union in its observer capacity, United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Iceland, New Zealand (also speaking for Australia and Canada) and Switzerland expressing solidarity with Ukraine and condemning the Russian Federation’s unprovoked aggression against a sovereign, independent country. These actions undermine international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, they said.
The Russian Federation’s representative, in turn, denounced the politicization of a United Nations agenda, blaming military assistance provided to Ukraine by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries for causing the suffering. The Kyiv regime does not recognize the damage being done, as some weapons have fallen into the hands of criminal groups, she added. These deliveries encourage Ukraine’s military to violate international humanitarian law by indiscriminately targeting civilians. She called for an end to attacks.
The representative of Iran similarly objected to the politicization of a specialized United Nations meeting, cautioning that such a wrong approach could endanger the constructive environment needed for successful negotiations.
The Conference adopted the draft provisional agenda (document A/CONF/232/2022/L.4) without a vote, agreeing to proceed in accordance with the revised provisional organization of work (document A/CONF.232/2022/L.5)
The Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 16 August, to continue its work.