Intergovernmental Conference for Drafting First-Ever Maritime Biodiversity Treaty Suspends Fifth Session, Allowing Time to Seek Compromise, Finalize Text
Pacific Small Island Developing States Express Great Disappointment over Slowdown, Stressing Vital Need to Protect Oceans, Share Marine Resource Benefits
The Intergovernmental Conference to draft a new maritime biodiversity treaty suspended its fifth session today, after delegations, racing to agree on the final elements, paused their relentless negotiations to seek compromise.
Conference President Rena Lee (Singapore) reported that she would address the General Assembly to request that the Secretary-General authorize a resumed fifth session. While delegations welcomed the significant progress made and reiterated their commitment to the negotiations, the Pacific small island developing States expressed great disappointment over the slowdown, underscoring the vital need to protect the oceans and the sharing of benefits offered by marine resources.
Opening the meeting in the early afternoon, the President clarified that delegations used the latest “refreshed text of the agreement”, circulated that morning, as the basis for their negotiations. This updated version captured the progress that emerged during informal negotiations and in the small working groups. However, “hard negotiations” would be necessary to reach a conclusion.
“We have never been so close to the finish line in this process,” she said, as she reopened the session in the evening. She took note of the facilitators' reports and explained the necessary decision to suspend the fifth session was due to a lack of time needed to reach the finish line. Nevertheless, “excellent” progress had been made, which delegations subsequently took the floor to acknowledge.
“The light is at the end of the tunnel,” several speakers confirmed, expressing warm thanks to the President for carrying out important and complex work, as well as Bureau members, facilitators and Secretariat officials for their vital roles in advancing the negotiations.
Iceland’s delegate called the fifth session “a turning point” in the negotiating process. “The Conference has made more progress in two weeks than has been done in the past decade,” he said. “We are in a much better position.” He urged all delegations to be well prepared for the next step.
Several delegations welcomed the transparency and inclusivity of the process, which was considered crucial, as highlighted in particular by the representative of the Philippines. His counterparts from Iran and Venezuela, however, considered the “proliferation” of negotiating groups a problem, as some delegations had not been able to participate in all the meetings. The same was said by the representative of Maldives, who called for more structured meetings going forward. Nicaragua’s representative made an appeal to this effect, urging facilitators not to convene any more meetings in small groups, “as this reduces the chances of participation for small delegations”. China’s representative went further by requesting that proposals from small groups not be included in the draft text, owing to the lack of full participation. The representative of India, meanwhile, welcomed the new format adopted at the fifth session, as it allowed for constructive work and the forging of new friendships.
Delegations should use the lessons learned from the current negotiations at the resumed session, recommended Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, before requesting that the future instrument include the topics identified in the “2011 package” based on the common heritage of humankind.
Perhaps the most moved delegate was Samoa’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, who explained the vital importance of the negotiating process for her delegation. Pacific islands had come in good faith from afar, spending $260,0000 to bring in 24 people. This represents a significant investment, she said, arguing that those funds were not spent on roads, medicine or schools at home, but on travel to come “here”. While she thanked regional partners, Australia and New Zealand, and acknowledged the progress made, she also spoke of the difficult compromises made by these countries, calling for “finishing what we started”.
Expressing hope that the work done during the fifth session would be preserved, the representative of Barbados, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the future agreement must provide an opportunity for all Member States to make effective use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Her disappointment was shared by the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, who, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, urged Member States to support this process. She called for an ambitious text and pledged to work actively before the resumed session.
Structured “inter-sessional” work will be required, Namibia’s representative cautioned. Speaking for the Group of African States, he called for the participation of experts from capitals, in view of the complexity of the issues. It will be important “not to throw the baby out with the bathwater”, he said, arguing that “we have worked to ensure that the treaty is fair and universal”.
The European Union’s representative added: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” He welcomed the “very important discussions” held over the past two weeks, highlighting provisions on genetic resources for which the European Union had made proposals on financial benefit-sharing. Drawing attention to agreements already reached on parts of the text, Canada’s representative recommended that facilitators upload their reports onto the website, so delegations know where to resume the next time.
Analysing trends in the negotiation process, the representative of Mexico, on behalf of the “CLAM” group, noted dynamic movements on some issues that contrasted with stagnation on others. “We were proactive in the discussion, including leading small groups,” he said, referring to concessions made on important topics. While the “CLAM” group had departed from its position on a rigid patent system for access to marine genetic resources, similar flexibility had not been shared by all, he noted, voicing regret that it had lowered the chances of finding solutions, a point also raised by the delegate from the United Republic of Tanzania. In particular, he observed a lack of openness in the chapter on marine genetic resources, especially for the sharing of financial benefits. He recommended identifying points on which political agreement is needed.
Still others drew attention to the absence of an international regime to manage marine biodiversity, with Nepal’s representative, on behalf of landlocked developing countries, underscoring the importance of a “common heritage of humanity”, a notion at the heart of many speeches heard today, including that of Thailand. For the representative of Haiti, the question of sharing should not arise, it was simply necessary to define its modalities.
This international regime must be the result of consensus, added the representative of Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic country. He recommended following the precedent set under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted by consensus. The same request was made by China’s delegate, who demanded adoption by consensus on the four topics included in the draft. The representative of Türkiye meanwhile recalled that this process is open to all Member States, regardless of their status under the Convention. He requested the retention of article 4, paragraph 3, of the “refreshed text” relating to this item.
The need to finally have a treaty was recalled with a sense of urgency, in particular by the representative of the Republic of Korea, who also requested more flexibility. “We must act before it is too late,” said the representative of Greenpeace, who recalled that the oceans have lost 70 per cent of sharks in 50 years while more than 100 marine species are seriously endangered. “This agreement has been under discussion for 20 years,” she stressed.
She called for agreeing on a text by the end of 2022, an appeal also made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the High Seas Alliance and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. The global responsibility to the oceans is at stake, Costa Rica’s delegate added, with Egypt’s representative noting that this year will also see the holding of the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27).
Others called for building on the momentum gained during the fifth session, including Monaco’s delegate, who was particularly attached to the chapter “area‑based management tools, including marine protected areas", while the representative of the United Kingdom assured that her delegation is committed to reaching an ambitious agreement. Ecuador is also committed to this goal, the country’s delegate assured, citing its marine reserve in the Galapagos and maritime corridor established with Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. “This process must lead us to protect 30 per cent of marine biodiversity by 2030,” the United States representative recalled, stressing that “failure is not an option”.
For the Dominican Republic, “this is not just a historic agreement,” said its representative. “It is a transcendental commitment for the benefit of present and future generations.” Marine biodiversity cannot continue to be ignored. “The whole world is watching us,” the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia observed.