Fish

4th Session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on the BBNJ

7–18 March 2022 | UN Headquarters, New York

Conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction – BBNJ

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At the most productive meeting so far, “unprecedented progress” was made in discussions on marine genetic resources, including benefit sharing, area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

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Photo by Noé Sardet on Unsplash

After two years of postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Member States gathered in New York to continue negotiations on an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

The conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ has increasingly attracted international attention, as scientific information, albeit insufficient, reveals the richness and vulnerability of such biodiversity, particularly around seamounts, hydrothermal vents, sponges, and cold-water corals, while concerns grow about the increasing anthropogenic pressures posed by existing and emerging activities, such as fishing, mining, marine pollution, and bioprospecting in the deep sea.

Following more than a decade of discussions convened under the United Nations General Assembly, the Assembly, in its resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ. The IGC held its organizational session in 2018 and held three formal sessions in September 2018, March 2019 and August 2019. The fourth and final session was supposed to convene in March 2020.

To maintain momentum during the two-year COVID delay, IGC President Rena Lee (Singapore) held virtual intersessional sessions beginning in September 2020 over the Microsoft Teams platform and webinars to continue the dialogue on the four elements of the draft treaty:

  • marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits;
  • measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas;
  • environmental impact assessments;
  • capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology, as well as cross cutting issues.

In addition to these sessions, the governments of Belgium, Costa Rica, Monaco, and the High Seas Alliance organized High Seas Online Dialogues, where BBNJ participants engaged in three-hour-long sessions on selected topics.

At IGC-4, delegates met in a combination of plenary sessions and “informal-informals” over two weeks to conduct text-based negotiations on outstanding issues, such as: the scope of the instrument, including to what extent digital sequence information or derivatives will be addressed, as well as whether or not fish and fisheries will have a place in the agreement; whether mandatory or voluntary benefit-sharing measures would be carried out on a monetary and/or non-monetary basis; and the overarching principles governing the future international legally binding instrument, in particular the common heritage of humankind and the freedom of the high seas.

IGC-4 convened from 7-18 March 2022 at UN Headquarters in New York.

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