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Intersessional Work of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

14 September 2020 | Online

The negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) that were supposed to conclude in 2020 have been postponed due to COVID-19. To maintain momentum, an online briefing took place on Monday, 14 September 2020, to announce the start of virtual intersessional work ahead of the next in-person meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

Following more than a decade of discussions convened under the United Nations General Assembly, the Assembly, in resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, decided to convene an IGC on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction with a view to developing a legally binding instrument as soon as possible.

The IGC is mandated to meet for four sessions; the first three sessions were held in September 2018, March 2019, and August 2019, respectively; the fourth session had been scheduled for March 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. IGC-4 has not yet been re-scheduled and is expected to be held in 2021.

During the first three IGC sessions, delegates clarified positions and exchanged ideas on the four elements of the package identified in 2011

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

During IGC-3, delegates delved, for the first time, into textual negotiations based on a “zero draft” containing treaty text developed by IGC President Rena Lee (Singapore).

Virtual intersessional work – Online briefing

IGC President Lee opened the meeting, welcoming participants to the live event platform and explaining relevant modalities. She highlighted the start of a virtual intersessional work programme, to be conducted using an online discussion forum. This programme aims to develop better mutual understanding among delegations on contested issues, ahead of IGC-4.

Miguel de Serpa Soares, Secretary-General of the IGC, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, invited participants to seize the opportunity to continue exchanging ideas and reflect on possible solutions. He highlighted encouraging initiatives by Member States, civil society, and UN bodies to keep the momentum going for ocean action.

President Lee explained the rationale for the virtual intersessional work programme, noting that the postponement of IGC-4 allows all involved to “take stock and prepare ourselves better.” She explained that intersessional work is not substituting for negotiations, which will take place during the still unscheduled IGC-4, but allows for clarifying positions and enhancing mutual understanding.

President Lee clarified that the intersessional work programme will be held using the online discussion forum with the full engagement of the facilitators of the five working groups that address the four elements of the 2011 package and cross-cutting issues. She explained relevant modalities regarding the use of the online discussion forum together with the platform’s attributes and limitations. She noted that the online forum will be open for posting for a five-day period for each working group and will be conducted with the facilitators’ guidance through specific questions. President Lee further emphasized that the outcome heavily depends on the content of the online discussions, noting that further bilateral deliberations to be held during October 2020 will allow delegations to provide initial feedback on the process.

In the ensuing online discussion, participants queried whether: the forum will be shut down after the scheduled period; comments can be downloaded by others; facilitators will summarize the online discussions at IGC-4; and observers can post comments. They further discussed ways to nominate focal points and alternates as well as the status and purpose of potential outcome documents from the intersessional work.

President Lee responded that the forum will be conducted by invitation, noting that observers can also post comments. She reiterated that whether facilitators will summarize online discussions during IGC-4, as well as the status and purpose of potential outcome documents, heavily depends on the content of the deliberations and will be decided following consultations with interested Member States.

President Lee thanked all participants and renewed the invitation to the online discussion forum to continue intersessional deliberations.

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