Secretary-General Urges Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt Robust, Ambitious Maritime Biodiversity Treaty that Protects Ocean Health for Future Generations
As the Intergovernmental Conference to draft a new maritime biodiversity treaty continued its resumed fifth session, the Secretary-General sent a message to delegations, urging them to adopt a robust and ambitious agreement that advances ocean health for future generations.
Miguel de Serpa Soares, Secretary-General of the Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, read out a statement on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres who was unable to be present at the meeting due to other commitments.
“Our ocean has been under pressure for decades. We can no longer ignore the ocean emergency,” he emphasized, pointing out that the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are being keenly felt around the globe, affecting environment and livelihoods of people. By adopting a robust and ambitious agreement, the Intergovernmental Conference can take an important step forward in countering the destructive trends and advancing ocean health for generations to come. The treaty can ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of the ocean space and guarantee that environmental impacts of respective activities are considered in decision-making.
Moreover, the treaty can deliver on capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology, levelling the playing field so all States can responsibly utilize and benefit from this critical global commons, he said. Encouraging delegations to help ensure the ocean will be healthier, more resilient and more productive, benefiting the planet and humankind, he stressed: “At the dawn of the fifth decade since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, you have the opportunity to further build on its legacy.”
Rena Lee (Singapore), Conference President, then opened the floor to oral reports from facilitators on progress made towards finalizing the new instrument.
The representative of Belize, reporting on the small group addressing marine genetic resources, including the sharing of benefits, noted significant progress made on both the text and proposals, particularly in relation to article 11, paragraph 5 to paragraph 8. However, there are still options and differences regarding monetary benefit-sharing and utilization of marine genetic resources. On article 11bis, delegations explored ideas on how to come to an understanding of treating access and benefits-sharing on the use of digital sequence information in the treaty, taking into account what is occurring in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. On article 8 and 8.1, further discussions will be needed depending on how other parts of the text land. On article 8, paragraph 2, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in the ongoing discussions, she said, adding that proponents of article 8 paragraph 2bis shared their rationale for its inclusion. On article 9, differences continue. In respect to most of the text, delegations were able to clean up one of the paragraphs, she said, adding that the working text from the small group will be uploaded on the platform. Noting that they are picking up the pace, she said she is confident that delegations are willing and ready to conclude on conceptual issues to land a text.
Canada’s delegate, reporting on the informal informals addressing area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, said discussions focused on the four main areas of the “Updated draft text”. Having considered the small group’s report on articles 19 and 20ante, including updates on informal consultations on articles 19 and 19bis, delegations also provided comments on the proposals by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and China. On article 20ante, delegations were briefed on further adjustments to the text, resulting in a general agreement on the threshold and other aspects. Among other things, she also said that, on article 19, paragraphs 4 and 5/4alt, some delegations indicated a degree of comfort with a simple enabling clause. In addition, a revised proposal by one of the regional groups was received as an attempt to bridge the remaining conceptual divide.
However, describing the contents of article 19bis, paragraphs 4 to 10, she said that the path to consensus among delegations was not evident. While there appeared to be comfort with some proposed text on how to achieve a balance between a restrictive opt-out process that will ensure conservation and sustainable use objectives can be met, and an opt-out process that might be so constrained as to effectively negate the purpose of having it as an option, fundamental differences remained. Upon exchanging view on proposed insertions by China on disputed areas in part III, delegations were encouraged to consult bilaterally to find a way forward. While many delegations expressed concerns related to explicit references to disputed areas, some felt it worthwhile to consider how to emphasize the need to focus only on areas beyond national jurisdiction. Some specific textual suggestions were made to try and bridge these concerns, she added.
The representative of the Netherlands, addressing the outcome of the small group meeting on environmental impact assessments, said he would report on the good progress made in the discussions on article 34 of the updated draft text at the informal informals today.
The delegate of El Salvador, reporting on the informal informals addressing capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology, said delegations discussed articles 44 and 45, including proposals advanced in the small group, and were able to lift brackets from certain paragraphs. On article 44, paragraph 1, the discussion focused on two proposals on the obligation in relation to the transfer of marine technology, with many delegations expressing support for the phrase “shall cooperate to achieve”, while other delegations preferred a combination of “cooperate to achieve and seek to ensure”. Delegations also expressed views on the inclusion of “in particular” in front of “developing States parties”, including the reference to biotechnology. On article 44, paragraph 2, delegations found a balance in the text by lifting brackets around the phrases “development and” transfer of marine technology, as well as around “taking into account their national policies, priorities, plans and programmes” at the end of the sentence.
On article 45, three options for paragraph 1 were identified, she continued. Many delegations expressed support for including the elements of the terms of additional modalities, with two possible formulations being put forward, while a preference was also expressed for differentiating the terms between different groupings of technology. Discussions on this will continue during informal informals today. Discussion on paragraph 3 focused on certain terms and phrases, which remain under discussion. A proposal was made to open the article with a new paragraph, which would set out a long-term vision; some delegations offered to draft proposals or suggested that the content of such a paragraph could be reflected elsewhere in part V. She voiced hope that the delegations’ positive and constructive spirit will bring the Conference to a successful conclusion.
The representative of Jamaica, addressing general provisions discussed in the informal informals on cross-cutting issues, said discussions focused on article 4, regarding the relationship between the agreement and relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional, subregional and sectoral bodies. He also noted that his report on the work of the small group allowed delegations that did not have the opportunity to participate in those discussions to weigh in. On article 4, paragraph 2, significant progress was made thanks to the flexibility of several delegations and groups of delegations and their readiness to withdraw proposals on important issues. This resulted in general agreement for a return to the text featured in the “Further refreshed draft text”, although one delegation continued to express its strong preference for the retention of an amendment.
He noted that on article 4, paragraph 3, a lot of drafting had been done in the small group format although work remains to finding an agreeable way to address the legal status of non-parties to the Law of the Sea Convention. Following the work done in the small group, proposals were developed to address the concerns of several delegations, including by moving the reference to the legal status of non-parties to the preamble of the agreement. Nevertheless, there were different views among delegations concerning whether this subject should be provided for in an operative paragraph or in the preamble. As a landing zone could not be identified despite all the efforts, he said that he had assured delegations that he would report this to the Conference President and wider plenary in order to seek a way forward.
New Zealand’s delegate, reporting on informal informals on cross-cutting issues on implementation and compliance, and dispute settlement, said the discussions focused on article 55. Commenting on the text that came out of the small group, several delegations expressed support for paragraphs 1 to 7, including paragraph 1bis, and reservations to paragraph 8. In the spirit of bridging the gap between option I and option III, a proposal was made to link paragraph 3 in option III to paragraph 8 in option I. Some delegations agreed to include relevant parts of paragraph 3 of option III in option I. In an effort to build agreement, some proposals were made in this regard, including through the addition of a separate paragraph 8bis. While delegations are still working on reconciling positions concerning the different options, most are moving forward in support of option I, she said.
The Conference President, presenting a report on consultations, said that discussions focused on monetary benefits sharing. Noting that common elements of different proposals were analysed, she observed that delegations’ views were “not that far apart”, but some details needed to be ironed out. The issue of upfront payment or contribution was discussed with an agreement reached on immediacy of payments of assessed contributions; details on who would make these payments needed to be worked out. Outlining the agreement to include a provision enabling the Conference of the Parties to review and assess the commercialization of products from the utilization of marine genetic resources, she said that some details on how the review and assessment should proceed still needed to be resolved. On digital sequence information, some common elements were identified, and certain proposals were made. Further consultations to consider the subject as a whole were needed. Delegations will take up article 52 and article 11 in the upcoming consultations, she said.
Presenting the programme of work and logistics for the day, she also informed the Conference that no small working groups will take place on Wednesday, whereas discussions will take place in informal informals. Urging delegations to close as much of the text as possible, she encouraged them to engage in bilateral meetings to find solutions outside of informal informals and take note of the Secretary-General's comments.
The representative of South Africa took the floor, noting that a small group on article 50 took place on Tuesday, 28 February, and suggesting he report back on its progress.
Responding, the President said that the respective reporting will be scheduled into informal informals on Thursday, 2 March.
The delegate of Mexico said the Secretary-General’s message should encourage delegations to speed up agreement where it has not been reached. He underlined the importance of recognizing the common legacy of humankind as a guiding principle in the negotiations process, noting that it is the basis for achieving the objectives of conservation and sustainable use. "We cannot deny the existence of this principle and favour only the interests of a few,” he pointed out. Alongside the Core Latin American Group, his delegation has shown flexibility and has made significant concessions to help the Conference move forward, he said, urging all to exercise the same flexibility. His delegation wants to conclude negotiations and adopt an instrument this week. Administrative issues should not hold up the impetus of negotiations. “The international community, and the whole of the world, needs good news,” he said, adding that this could also be a great piece of news for international law.
An observer for the State of Palestine, assuring the Conference President that “we are all in that canoe with you, with both paddles and a sleeping bag”, underscored his highest ambition to go beyond three nautical miles. He expressed support for Africa’s proposal on article 12 and the Core Latin American States’ proposal on article 52. However, expressing doubt that money coming from part II would be flowing into capacity-building required to assure the “30-by-30 objective”, he urged delegations to focus on early funding. To this end, he suggested the focus be on conference resolutions, where early implementations and inventory of existing capacity-building in areas beyond national jurisdiction can be discussed along with additional funding topping up the $34 million in the Global Environment Facility for early implementation.
Spotlighting the importance of a dedicated pledging conference for mobilizing resources from the private sector, philanthropy and non-governmental organizations, he encouraged delegations to consider fast-tracking and preparatory processes before entering into force and called attention to the existing institutions, like the Standing Committee on Finance under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Pointing out that the Framework’s 2018 mandate was extended to include forests, he said that such an extension could apply to the oceans and areas beyond national jurisdiction. That would allow for 20 designated experts with an annual work programme to find innovative solutions that tackle financing of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Noting the points raised by speakers and informing the Conference that Friday’s session will be detailed in the next plenary, the Conference President underscored that the priority remains to conclude the drafting of the agreement. To that, she encouraged delegations to “take out your sleeping bags and row very hard.”
The plenary of the Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 March, to continue its work.