Demonstrating ‘the Power of Multilateralism’, Intergovernmental Conference Adopts Historic New Maritime Biodiversity Treaty
With a standing ovation marking the conclusion of years of extensive negotiations, the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction today adopted a historic maritime biodiversity treaty.
“I hope you know that you were all applauding and cheering for yourselves,” observed Rena Lee (Singapore), President of the Intergovernmental Conference, after that body adopted without a vote the “Draft agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction” (document A/CONF.232/2023/L.3).
The text, as an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Speaking in explanation of position after the action, two Member States took the floor, with the representative of the Russian Federation distancing his delegation from consensus due to the text’s risk of politicization, among other issues. Venezuela’s delegate, meanwhile, pointed out that his country is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, and therefore, is not bound by its norms.
Prior to the adoption, Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, noted that Member States recognized a common problem, came together, overcame differences and advanced transformative, sustainable solutions designed to protect humanity’s shared treasure — the environment. “Ultimately, you succeeded in crafting an agreement that testifies to the power of multilateralism,” he said.
Also addressing the Conference was António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, who pointed out that, by acting to counter threats to the planet that go beyond national boundaries, “you are demonstrating that global threats deserve global action — that countries can come together, in unity, for the common good”. He then urged all States to sign and ratify the agreement without delay.
Following the adoption, the Conference turned to a general exchange of views between Member States, as many speakers welcomed today’s successful result.
Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, welcomed the positive conclusion to a process that took “well over 15 years”. Noting that the adoption of today’s agreement “breaks the status quo”, he emphasized that the same determination that led these negotiations to their conclusion should animate and encourage those present to put the agreement into force as soon as possible.
Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, then spotlighted the pivotal and vital role of women in developing the treaty. That instrument — a victory for international law and for multilateralism adopted at a time when the world is unsettled — is a testament of what can be achieved at the United Nations when collective action is taken.
Alberto van Klaveren, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile, similarly observed that a negotiation that took 15 years has resulted in a text that contains great advances in terms of maritime conservation. He also pointed out that his country has offered to serve as the host State of the Secretariat of the new treaty in a spirit of inclusiveness and impartiality, but also with the aim of bringing governance of the high seas closer to the Global South.
Abdulla Shahid, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, also welcomed today’s adoption as a significant milestone in collective efforts to safeguard and sustainably manage the vast, invaluable marine resources that exist beyond areas of national jurisdiction. Emphasizing the need for a fair, equitable approach in managing the use of marine genetic resources, he added that today’s adoption “signifies not an end, but the commencement of a transformative journey”.
As well, 40 delegations took the floor, commending the President for her leadership, hailing the historic adoption and spotlighting national and regional concerns. Many speakers pointed out that multilateralism had prevailed, with delegations building bridges and going that extra step towards compromise. Moreso, speakers stressed, the adoption was not the finish line, but the beginning of a new era.
At the outset of the meeting, the Conference considered several procedural matters, including credentials received and a report presented by the Coordinator of the open-ended informal working group tasked with ensuring the uniformity of terminology throughout the text of the draft agreement and harmonizing the versions in the six official languages of the United Nations.
The Intergovernmental Conference will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 20 June, to continue the general exchange of views.
PABLO ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico), Coordinator of the Open-Ended Informal Working Group on Technical Edits and Language Harmonization, said the informal group discussed the draft agreement’s edited version — in English only — circulated to delegations on 27 March (document A/CONF.232/2023/CRP.2). With United Nations editors’ assistance, delegations achieved consensus on an English text (document A/CONF.232/2023/CRP.2/Rev.1), with one matter remaining for further consideration under article 11. As the first draft versions in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish were circulated for technical edits on 14 April, an additional technical matter was identified on article 14 in the English version. At the meeting on 3 May, delegations resolved the outstanding matters in the English text (document A/CONF.232/2023/CRP.2/Rev.2), while suggesting that delegations, which had proposed edits on the same language version for the Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish versions, coordinate among themselves and transmit the consolidated technical edits to the secretariat.
In this context, he said that the submission deadline was extended by 6 June, while on the following day the draft text versions — with additional technical edits in article 65 — were circulated to delegations (document A/CONF.232/2023.CPR.3) and placed under the silence procedure. As the silence procedure was not broken, all six language text versions were submitted for processing into official Conference documents, and the draft (document A/CONF.232/2023/L.3) was issued for adoption on 16 June. However, the Arabic version required a correction in article 7(b) with regard to the words “set out” to read as in the version approved by the silence procedure on 12 June. Expressing gratitude to delegations for their constructive spirit and the sense of camaraderie, he said: “This allowed us to deliver this result on time.”
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stressing that the ocean is the lifeblood of the planet, announced: “Today, you have pumped new life and hope to give the ocean a fighting chance.” There are threats on multiple fronts, with climate change heating the planet, disrupting weather patterns and ocean currents, as well as altering marine ecosystems and the species living there. Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic have recently risen so high “that they are literally off the charts”, he pointed out. The axis of a long‑standing graph tracking those temperatures had to be redrawn to reflect unprecedented temperature increases. Marine biodiversity is further under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification, with over one third of fish stocks being harvested at unsustainable levels. In addition, coastal waters are being polluted with chemicals, plastics and human waste.
The historic achievement being celebrated today is vital to address these threats and ensure the sustainability of those areas not covered under national jurisdiction — over two thirds of the ocean, he continued. Two decades in the making, the adoption of the agreement demonstrates the strength of multilateralism, building on the legacy of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. By acting to counter threats to the planet that go beyond national boundaries, “you are demonstrating that global threats deserve global action — that countries can come together, in unity, for the common good”, he said. “But, my friends, your work is not yet over.”
Urging participants to “spare no effort to ensure that this agreement enters into force”, he called on all States to act without delay to sign and ratify it as soon as possible — as it is critical to addressing the threats facing the ocean, and to the success of ocean-related goals and targets, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Recognizing the unwavering support of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, civil society, academic institutions and the scientific community, he said he looked forward “to continuing to work with all of you to secure a healthier, more resilient, and more productive ocean, benefiting current and future generations”.
“Distinguished delegates, the moment we have been waiting for,” observed Rena Lee (Singapore), President of the Intergovernmental Conference, as the Conference took up “Draft agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction” (document A/CONF.232/2023/L.3).
She recalled that, in relation to article 18 of that instrument, the understanding is that the phrase “the Conference of the Parties shall not consider for decision” means that the Conference of the Parties can look at a proposal but shall not decide on such proposals. Further, in relation to environmental impact assessments, she pointed out that, while certain provisions allow a party to register its views on the impacts of a planned activity, the understanding is that it is the State that decides whether an activity under its jurisdiction or control should proceed.
The text, as an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea, aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The Conference then adopted the draft agreement, including a specified oral amendment and correction in the Arabic version of the text, without a vote.
A standing ovation followed, after which Ms. Lee added: “I hope you know that you were all applauding and cheering for yourselves.”
The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in explanation of position after action, said his delegation was assured that the creation of a hierarchical structure would not damage the existing relevant international organizations. Noting that marine conservation areas can limit the coastal States’ sovereign rights to use continental shelf resources or conduct other legal activities, he pointed out that the agreement “distorts the very nature of the environmental impact assessment” and contains politicization risk, among other issues. In this regard, he said he distanced himself from the consensus on the agreement’s text, adding: “This instrument is unacceptable. The matter of our participation in it cannot be considered.”
The representative of Venezuela, also speaking in explanation of position and aligning himself with the statement to be made by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the oceans and seas not only contain up to 80 per cent of life on the planet, but they also further contribute to the social and economic well-being of peoples, with maritime areas beyond national jurisdiction covering about half of the area of the planet. It is vital to recognize failures and rectify the course, including through efforts towards a new more equitable international economic order. Noting several elements and principles of the agreement were a victory for the countries and people of the South, allowing all to benefit from marine biodiversity, he said more than 500,000 square kilometres of water surfaces are an integral part of Venezuelan territory; conservation receives priority attention in its policies. Recognizing the need for a legal framework regulating marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, he stressed that, while his delegation joined consensus, it must be interpreted as a modification of its position on the Law of the Sea Convention, to which it is not a party and not bound by its norms. He also spotlighted the provisions of article 6, noting that any decision or activity based on it will be understood without prejudice to any claims of sovereignty, sovereign rights or jurisdiction including any dispute in those areas.
ALBERT II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, welcomed the positive conclusion to a process that took “well over 15 years”. The Law of the Sea Convention was a visionary document for peace and sustainable development and, with today’s adoption, now stands reinforced. Protecting marine genetic resources and managing the oceans through zones — including marine conservation areas — will facilitate true conservation and sustainable use of all biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, he observed, adding that the agreement “breaks the status quo”. Further, it proclaims a deep commitment to preserving the oceans and halting massive losses of marine biodiversity, the destruction of marine environments, overfishing and climate change. The same determination that led these negotiations to their conclusion should animate and encourage those present to put the agreement into force as soon as possible, he emphasized.
VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, noting that the agreement’s adoption has occurred during the week when the International Day of Women in Diplomacy is celebrated, spotlighted the pivotal and vital role of women in developing the treaty. The adoption, a victory for international law, sets up a legal framework for ocean and sea activities and is grounded in and uphold the Law of the Sea Convention. More so, the agreement is a collective game changer for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, while also marking a step forward for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14. Also calling the adoption a victory for multilateralism, he spotlighted Singapore’s close connection with the ocean, adding: “We rely on the ocean for our survival and our prosperity.” Further, the adoption of the agreement — in a time when the world is even more unsettled — is a testament of what can be achieved at the United Nations when collective action is taken. “We feel very privileged and humbled that Singapore’s ambassador was given the honour to preside over the BBNJ [Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction] negotiations,” he stated. In this context, the international community must now strive for universal participation and effective implementation of the agreement. Singapore will sign the agreement — when it opens for signature on 20 September — and will ratify it as soon as possible, he announced.
ALBERTO VAN KLAVEREN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile, aligning himself with statements to be made by the Group of 77 and the Core Latin American Group, said that today is a special day in which a negotiation that took 15 years has resulted in a text that contains great advances in terms of maritime conservation. This treaty is essential to establish ocean governance based on justice and inclusion, balancing the interests of conservation and sustainable use, including the just and balanced sharing of benefits — all of which implies collaboration and mutual understanding of countries of different levels of development, technological capacity and geographical condition. Chile is a country with a historic oceanic vocation, reflected in the 1952 Declaration of Santiago with Peru and Ecuador, which expressed the concept of the 200 miles — a relevant basis in the negotiation of the Law of the Sea Convention. He noted the agreement has a clear mandate to collaborate with other relevant bodies and frameworks, without undermining their mandates. Chile has offers to serve as the host State of the Secretariat of the new treaty, in a spirit of inclusiveness and impartiality, but also with the aim of bringing governance of the high seas closer to the Global South, he added.
ABDULLA SHAHID, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, welcomed today’s adoption as a significant milestone in collective efforts to safeguard and sustainably manage the vast, invaluable marine resources that exist beyond areas of national jurisdiction. As a large ocean State, Maldives is aware of the critical importance of the high seas and the immense biodiversity harboured therein, he said, emphasizing that the conservation and sustainable use of the same is inextricably linked to the well-being of people and the planet and to the prosperity of present and future generations. The agreement adopted today provides a lifeline for conserving and sustainable managing the ocean space that many depend on for sustenance and existence. Emphasizing the need for a fair, equitable approach in managing the use of marine genetic resources, he added that today’s adoption also “signifies not an end, but the commencement of a transformative journey”.
CARLOS SORRETA, Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, associating himself with the statement to be made by the Group of 77 and China, said his country has participated in leading the agreement for two decades. “We hail from the centre of marine biodiversity — the Coral Triangle of South-East Asia,” he stated, adding that the passage of Verde Island — one of 7,000 islands of the Philippines archipelago — is at the centre of marine biodiversity. Spotlighting the importance of the benefits sharing regime under the marine generic resource part, he said it was hard fought by the Group of 77 and China, while pointing to the equal importance of monetary and non-monetary benefits that provide immediate positive impact on developing States. He also recalled his delegation’s flexibility being tested at the eleventh hour when a package of provisions, rather than focusing on measures regarding conservation issues in areas requiring protection, aimed instead at creating a comprehensive carve-out from the agreement’s area-based management tools regime. He further expressed hope that States, in in acknowledging the South China Sea as a vital region for the international community, could extend their commitment to the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the high seas. “Collective action towards integrated ocean governance — and adoption by consensus of the BBNJ agreement — is the imperative of our time,” he stressed.
ALEJANDRO CELORIO ALCÁNTARA (Mexico), stated: “We did it.”, adding that, after more than a decade of multilateral efforts, today marked the achievement of an agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans that will soon be a legally binding instrument. Citing his country’s active role in the process since its inception, coupled with efforts to build the Core Latin American Group, he hailed the day’s historic step in ocean governance — demonstrating that, even in difficult times, the United Nations can deliver concrete results for the common good of humanity. Adoption of the agreement reiterates the importance of advancing negotiation towards the adoption of new legally binding instruments in all areas. In addition, the treaty confirms the status of the Law of the Sea Convention and is the first step towards implementation of a new ocean governance regime with its sustainability and protection as its sole objective. He called on States to make every effort to reach the number of signatures and ratifications allowing its prompt entry into force, reaffirming that the principle of the common heritage of humanity governs the oceans.
YURI ARIEL GALA LÓPEZ (Cuba), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, while today’s adoption is a victory of diplomacy and multilateralism, it is “first and foremost a victory of developing countries, who stood together to shape an ambitious and very progressive treaty”. It was the strength of this Group that made possible the insertion of a truly balanced model of benefit-sharing regarding the use of marine genetic resources and digital sequence information. Further, developing countries also achieved the inclusion of the principle of “common heritage of humankind” in the final agreement, which is a fundamental concept that must be present in every action relating to the high seas. He also noted that provisions relating to capacity-building, funding arrangements and cross-cutting issues were shaped by delegations within the Group, who obtained these results by struggling against the immense pressures to which developing countries were subjected.
ABUKAR DAHIR OSMAN (Somalia), speaking for the African Group, said that, throughout the meeting, the Group maintained its resolve towards an implementable and universal agreement. It also aimed ensure the “common heritage of humankind” principle as one of the agreement’s governing principles. This position is aligned to the global goal to secure ocean sustainability for present and future generations, consistent with Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda. Noting that a healthy ocean is the greatest tool to fight climate change, he said that, upon its entry into force, the agreement will determine a real impact on the planet. The commitments on capacity-building and the marine technology transfer should be operationalized and fulfilled, he stressed, observing that conservation and management measures will also limit the unregulated fishing in the high seas adjacent to coastal States. Post adoption support is critical for the agreement’s signing, ratification and implementation, he said, adding that “the ‘ship has reached the shore’ for all humanity, with all onboard”. Member States should thus follow the universal approach and concentrate their implementation efforts.
MATILDA BARTLEY (Samoa), speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and aligning herself with the Group of 77, noted that, while small island developing States started out with a particular vision for the agreement, the one reached in the spirit of compromise and flexibility does capture the collective consensus of Member States. Small island developing States have been championing the process for decades as the connectivity of the ocean and its ecosystems impacts on those ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction and can have potentially severe consequences on marine resources within exclusive economic zones. The ocean also plays an integral role in regulating the global climate. As AOSIS member States are the countries most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, “enhancing the resilience of the ocean is critical for our survival”, she stressed. Citing a number of outstanding issues that remain to be resolved at the Conference of the Parties, she emphasized this should not be used as an opportunity to reopen and rewrite the issues that Member States have spent countless hours negotiating in order to reach agreement. The necessary needs assessments regarding small island developing States must be carried out as soon as possible in order to identify gaps, and ways to address them.
ISHMAEL TSHOLOFELO DABUTHA (Botswana), speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, observed that “the significance of this agreement, anchored towards the global governance of the ocean, cannot be overstated”. He welcomed the instrument’s recognition of countries with special needs — particularly landlocked developing countries, with their inherent lack of access to the sea — as well as its inclusion of the principle of “common heritage of humankind”. Given the challenges faced by landlocked developing countries, he also welcomed that the treaty reflects the importance of capacity building and the fair, equitable sharing of benefits. Adding that it is essential that the instrument live up to its aspirations, he expressed hope that all parties will fulfil their international obligations to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented. Together, States can preserve the oceans, share benefits for future generations and achieve more, he said.
BJÖRN OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as an observer, said the adoption of the treaty marks the successful end of more than a decade of multilateral work. “The treaty is a major win for biodiversity – a game changer for the protection of the ocean and the sustainable use of its marine resources,” he stressed, reporting that that the bloc will support the treaty’s ratification and early implementation through the European Union Global Ocean Programme of €40 million. The work on the funds allocation under this Programme is now ongoing. While pointing out that the agreement reached is good for the oceans and is a landmark for a more global equity — as it established the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources and foresees capacity building and the transfer of marine technology — he said it contains rules to conduct environmental impact assessments with the right checks and balances. “The European Union and its member States will make every effort at reaching consensus in implementing the treaty,” he stressed. Turning to the Conference President, he added: “Your optimistic and resolute leadership, throughout this process, has made a mark on the Law of the Sea for many decades to come.”
OLIVER JACKMAN (Barbados), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), unreservedly welcomed the adoption of the agreement, which will address longstanding gaps in ocean governance. The vast expanse of the high seas, from its glimmering surface to its darkest depths, is the habitat for an untold number of species and resources. The identities and economies of CARICOM depend upon it. While the agreement is by no means perfect, he welcomed commitments shared by all to ensure capacity-building and transfer of marine technology, as well as financing to support parties, especially developing countries. Citing the meaningful and equitable sharing of resources beyond national jurisdiction, he nonetheless reiterated the importance of a joint and cooperative approach towards the conservation and environmental objectives in the agreement. All have a shared right to enjoy the benefits of the oceans, and a shared responsibility to safeguard them. While it is right to pause and celebrate the moment, important work lies ahead, including the signature and ratification and entry into force of the agreement. The challenges the international community is working to solve are not pausing.
FILIPO TARAKINIKINI (Fiji), speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, observed that the fate of marine biodiversity is fundamentally linked to the climate challenge. Thus, the treaty will “undoubtedly contribute to the health, productivity and resilience of our ocean”. He urged the international community to seize the momentum of this landmark occasion and join the Forum’s members in signing the agreement on 20 September and ratifying and implementing the same with haste. He also called on the international community to establish a preparatory commission to ensure that such implementation starts in earnest in order to halt and reverse the loss of marine biodiversity and damage to the marine environment. Further, work should progress to establish an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement by limiting global warming to 1.5°C through rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
ILANA V. SEID (Palau), speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said the agreement is a new era for ocean governance, inclusivity and equity. While ensuring inclusivity in institutional arrangements for small island developing States, its provisions on capacity-building and transfer of marine technology will enable these States to play a more active role in processes under the agreement. Recalling the Pacific States advocating for traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to be recognized as a source of knowledge that could inform decision-making, she commended the inclusion of this recognition in the agreement, alongside science and scientific information. Since the negotiations’ close, there has been an increased interest from the public and the private sector to support the agreement ratification, she said, while calling on Member States to lay the groundwork for implementation. To this end, she suggested convening a preparatory commission, while underscoring the importance of the input of scientists, academic, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and other stakeholders to enrich ratification and implementation discussions. Mindful to the efforts laying ahead, she acknowledged the work of the Conference President, among others, stressing: “You have captained this ship admirably.”
GEORGINA GUILLÉN GRILLO (Costa Rica), speaking for the Core Latin American Group and aligning herself with the Group of 77, noted that the adoption is the first step to strengthening the sustainable governance of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It is essential that developed countries support implementation of the commitments, especially those related to the distribution of benefits, capacity-building and technology transfer, as well as financing. She noted the Core Latin American Group is a unique configuration, formed specifically for these negotiations — an example of the will of the region to negotiate in a united way and strengthen the contributions of Latin America to the development of international law. In the final stretch, the bloc made an effort to build bridges and generate creative solutions to reach the goal, remaining flexible on priority issues, aware that the ultimate goal was to be able to adopt a treaty. It further proposed the electronic system in the chapter on marine genetic resources; together with CARICOM, proposed the creation of the committee for capacity-building and transfer of marine technology that the instrument includes; and also played a central role in discussions regarding the instrument’s dispute settlement mechanism.
Celebrating this historic day, 40 delegations also took the floor, with many praising both the President of the Conference for her leadership and delegations for their constructive spirit during negotiations. While it was noted that the process was at times challenging, many speakers pointed out that multilateralism had prevailed, with delegations building bridges and going that extra step towards compromise.
Speakers also stressed that the treaty was a new step towards a balanced outcome for a healthy and wealthy ocean, not just for those who rely on the ocean for daily sustenance, but for all of humanity. Others pointed out that the treaty helped close the gap between developing countries and developed countries. Throughout the meeting, many speakers underscored that the adoption was not the finish line, but the beginning of a new era.
Some representatives spotlighted certain provisions and their understanding of the meaning attributed thereto, including the representative of Viet Nam who noted that, by article 18, the Conference of the Parties shall not consider for decision proposals to establish area-based management tools that include areas within national jurisdiction. While such proposals that include national maritime zones established under the Law of the Sea Convention shall not have legal effect, the purpose of area-based management is to conserve and sustainably use areas requiring protection. That means that the Conference of the Parties can look at a proposal but shall not decide thereon, he said.
Other speakers also contemplated the interaction between the Law of the Sea Convention — to which all Member States are not party — and the agreement adopted today. In that regard, the representative of Peru, noting that her country is not party to that instrument, stressed that its provisions are only applicable to Peru insofar as they constitute customary international law or reflect general principles of law.
Pakistan’s representative, however, underscored that the scope and legal effects of the freedom of maritime scientific research specified in article 7 of the agreement should be interpreted in light of the relevant provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention. As such, he stressed such research cannot provide the legal basis for any claim to ownership or proprietary rights in any part of the marine environment or its resources.
While many Member States called for the agreement be rapidly ratified and implemented, some detailed specific steps that first must be taken, with the representative of Cameroon saying that the first Conference of the Parties should develop a process of consultation and assessment for standards of conservation and environmental impact assessments. Further, that Conference should also consider other modalities for sharing the financial benefits stemming from the use of marine genetic resources, especially regarding external payments when such a resource is commercialized.
Similarly, the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia pointed out that, before the agreement enters into force, the Office of Legal Affairs’ Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea should be designated as the agreement’s interim Secretariat; a permanent Secretariat should be identified — preferably from a developing country; and a preparatory commission should be established to complete certain tasks before the first Conference of the Parties.
As did many delegations, an observer for the State of Palestine spotlighted his country’s pride in having played a significant role within the Global South in the formation and formulation of the agreement. However, he expressed concern about the agreement’s implementation funding, and urged States to call for early adoption as a priority goal of the forthcoming United Nations Ocean’s conference and the organization of the dedicated Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction pledging conference to mobilize stakeholders’ engagement.
Meanwhile, the representative of Gabon, spotlighted his country’s largest ocean reserve in Africa, including 20 marine protected areas, 9 marine parks and 11 aquatic reserves, while also protecting 26 per cent of Gabon’s territorial waters. Further, the treaty is a major tool for protecting at least 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030, he said, underlining the importance of mobilizing resources, and focusing on scientific research and technology transfer, as well as the equitable sharing of benefits.
Along those lines, the representative of Panama said that her country has expanded protected marine areas from 30 to 54 per cent in order to preserve the waters of Panama and the Caribbean and maintain the connectivity of ocean and marina coastal groups. This progress has been achieved by the Government’s decision and political will, in collaboration with civil society, international organizations and the private sector.
Calling the sea “our food cupboard and fridge”, the representative of Kiribati said that the agreement provides tools to protect marine resources from activities carried out in the adjacent high seas. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are the most serious threat for small island developing States, destructively impacting on the biological diversity and ecosystems of coastal States. Condemning this illicit activity, as well as the practice of nuclear waste dumping, he also bestowed the Kiribati blessing on those present: “Te Mauri — health; Te Raoi — peace; Te Tabomoa — prosperity.”
The representative of India pointed out that the agreement tackles major issues, including the catalogue of species — as the rate of extinction of marine species is faster than that of which these were discovered. More so, the “elixir of life” is concealed in the ocean, he said, noting that access to marine genetic resources would result in the production of innovative and affordable medicines that humanity needs.
Expanding on that sentiment, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania recalled that the transfer of technology and sharing of benefits of marine biological diversity, funding and capacity-building were the most contentious issues during the negotiations. He therefore urged developed States to be willing to provide adequate resources in order to support implementation.
Many delegates hailed negotiations and the resulting agreement as a breakthrough for developing and vulnerable countries, with Nauru’s delegate pointing out that — as a single atoll nation with an exclusive economic zone that vastly dwarfs its land mass — her delegation welcomed the inclusion of many small island developing States’ key priorities. The new provisions on access and benefits sharing will advance the cause of equity.
The representative of Tunisia, emphasizing that oceans are “the lungs of the planet”, said that carbon sinks are essential to climate regulation and therefore essential in the fight against climate change. The agreement paves the way for essential advances in assessing the environmental impact of new activities on the high seas, as well as the strengthening of developing States’ capacities in the fields of scientific research and governance of marine areas. Above all, it provides for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from activities.
However, Eritrea’s delegate emphasized that there is constructive ambiguity in the agreement, including, for example, the exact modalities for the sharing of monetary benefits, settlement of disputes or the feasibility of covering 30 per cent of the ocean as marine protected areas. He therefore called for continuing concerted efforts in the implementation of the agreement to ensure fair and equitable sharing of resources while preserving the biodiversity of the high seas.
As the meeting closed for the day, the representative of China, hailing the leadership of the President of the Conference, recalled the process of negotiations, the continuing deepening of understanding and the building of consensus. The President’s extraordinary leadership demonstrated “Asian wisdom and Asian style” and made an outstanding contribution to the final conclusion of the agreement, he said.