Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)


What it is

The Ocean covers 71% of the Earth surface, 64% of which constitutes the High Seas (those areas beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the coastline). In absence of a comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/Res/69/292 which established a Preparatory Committee (PrepComm) to make substantive recommendations to the General Assembly on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under the Convention.

The work of the PrepComm provided the foundation for Resolution A/Res/72/249 adopted by the General Assembly to convene an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to negotiate an international legally binding instrument that covers four primary thematic areas, collectively known as "the package":

  • 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

The new treaty will become an implementing agreement of the UNCLOS and complement existing international agreements on issues such as high seas fisheries, deep sea mining and shipping.

To date there have been three meetings of the IGC. A draft text of the new agreement is being considered by the IGC. The UK is represented by a Delegation, led by the FCDO, of representatives from the FCDO, Defra and NOC. Many UK scientists have also presented at side events during the IGC which are designed to inform the delegations negotiating the agreement. The 4th and scheduled final IGC has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is uncertain at this time when this will take place. 

What the IWG is doing

In February 2019 the FCO organised a BBNJ consultation workshop to gather a UK marine science community perspective of the ongoing IGC negotiations. A significant outcome was the identification of key points that could be used by the UK Delegation in their contribution to EU positions (and subsequently as UK positions post Brexit).

Areas beyond 200M (blue) which are subject to the treaty negotiations. Seafloor areas of Continental Shelf beyond 200M (shaded) are subject to Part VI of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) whereas the water column above will be subject to the new treaty