US joins high-ambition coalition ahead of crucial ocean summit

Published 07:14 on January 24, 2023  /  Last updated at 07:43 on January 24, 2023  /  Biodiversity  /  No Comments

The US is joining the high-ambition coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), a high-level official said Monday, seeking to create some momentum ahead of next month’s summit in New York where world nations hope to agree on an international legally binding BBNJ instrument.

The US is joining the high-ambition coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), a high-level official said Monday, seeking to create some momentum ahead of next month’s summit in New York where world nations hope to agree on an international legally binding BBNJ instrument.

Monica Medina, US assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, on Monday tweeted that she had notified Virginijus Sinkevicius, the EU commissioner for environment, oceans, and fisheries, and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna about the US plans to join the coalition so as to “bring negotiations on the BBNJ high seas treaty to a successful conclusion”.

“An effective BBNJ agreement would protect marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction by coordinating the conservation and sustainable use of high seas biodiversity across management regimes,” Medina said.

The EU’s Sinkevicius later replied to the tweet, wishing the US welcome to the coalution.

“You join us [at] a critical moment for the negotiations as we must now bring them over the finish line in February,” he wrote.

The high-ambition coalition was formed last February and currently counts more than 100 member nations, though that was insufficient for negotiators to reach a BBNJ agreement at the latest talks in New York in August.

A fifth round of negotiations kick off in New York on Feb. 20, and if they prove successful the outcome would be adopted as a legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) covering the management of biodiversity of the roughly two-thirds of global oceans that lie beyond 200 nautical miles of individual countries’ shores.

The talks cover four main areas: marine genetic resources in the high seas and related benefit-sharing, area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, and capacity-building and marine technology transfer.

The first issue has proven particularly difficult in previous rounds as marine genetic resources currently tend to exclusively benefit developed countries because poorer nations don’t have the means to harness those.

STOP FAILING

Despite failing to reach an agreement at the August talks, negotiators were optimistic as they achieved significant progress at that meeting, but simply ran out of time.

However, green groups say the August summit was a missed opportunity and are putting pressure on political leaders to do better in the upcoming discussions.

Greenpeace this week projected messages on the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, demanding Sinkevicius “stop failing” and ensure a strong global ocean treaty.

“The European Union must deliver the ocean protection it has repeatedly promised. Along with the UK and the US, it’s largely responsible for the failure to reach a deal at the last round of Global Ocean Treaty negotiations,” said Laura Meller with Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign.

“The EU loves to present itself as an ocean champion, despite its own waters being in a dismal state and the industrial fishing fleets of EU countries devastating sea life and jeopardising coastal communities in West Africa and elsewhere. It’s time for the European Commission to step up and secure the full protection of at least 30% of our oceans from exploitation,” she said.

Some of the elements in the BBNJ talks are covered in various other treaties or managed by regional fishery management organisations, including some on area-based protection, though those tend to focus on commercially important individual species, such as tuna, rather than entire ecosystems.

“Only about 4.8% of fish species that have been observed in areas beyond national jurisdiction are formally assessed and effectively managed by these organisations,” US-based group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) wrote in a blog post earlier this month.

A BBNJ agreement could set international minimum standards and practises for larger-scale strategic environmental impact assessments, EDF claimed.

“Securing a strong high seas treaty would help conserve marine life and natural resources, set up instruments to address emerging threats to our oceans, and create significant climate co-benefits.”

Before the BBNJ talks in New York, governments, organisations, and Indigenous groups meet in Vancouver on Feb. 3-9 at the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Conference to discuss pathways to protecting 30% of global oceans as agreed at COP15 in Montreal in December.

By Stian Reklev – stian@carbon-pulse.com

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