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A long and winding road. International discussions on the governance of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction

Studies N°07/2013. Iddri, 2013. 42 p.

States have been discussing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction for decades. This debate was prompted by increased evidence of threats and new scientific discoveries regarding the richness of marine genetic resources. This article provides an analysis of current negotiations and future challenges in the perspective of an international agreement.

Highlights :

  • THE NEED TO CONSERVE AND SUSTAINABLY USE MARINE BIODIVERSITY BEYOND AREAS OF NATIONAL JURISDICTION

Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction represent around half of the Planet’s surface and a significant amount of its biodiversity, but there are significant gaps in their governance which prevent their effective conservation and sustainable use. For example, no global and detailed legally-binding frameworks exist for the establishment of marine protected areas or the conduct of environmental impact assessments in these areas and a legal uncertainty surrounds the status of marine genetic resources found in the deep-seabed and in the water column of areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).

  • AN ISSUE DEBATED FOR MORE THAN A DECADE

Since the beginning of the 21st century, States have started to discuss, in various arenas, the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in ABNJ. This debate was prompted by increased evidence of threats to these areas (overexploitation, climate change, ocean acidification, pollution…) and new scientific discoveries regarding the richness of marine genetic resources. In view of these elements, major blocks of countries such as the European Union and the G77/China have agreed on the need to develop a new international instrument which could facilitate the development of modern conservation and management tools, whereas some developed States including the US have opposed this position, favoring a better implementation of existing instruments.

  • AN OPPORTUNITY TO LAUNCH THE NEGOTIATIONS FOR THE ADOPTION OF A NEW INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT

In 2011, debating under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly, States agreed that future discussions should be structured around four topics: marine genetic resources, area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments and capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology. It was also further agreed in 2012 that the decision to launch the negotiations for the adoption of a new international agreement should be taken before the end of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly (by the end of 2014), giving to this issue an extreme topicality.