29 JUN 2019

The initial version of the new legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction is now available from the U.N.

The legally binding biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) agreement will create new international high seas regulation on environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and marine protected areas (MPAs).

The instrument comes in response to concerns about the impacts of economic activity on ocean health from a growing range and level of commercial uses Potential ramifications of the new instrument include:

  • New, stricter requirements and controls by States over the activities conducted by companies under their control or jurisdiction
    Expanded or new national, regional and/or international authorities for BBNJ
    New mechanisms of declaration, authorization, and reporting of activities to authorities
    Requirements for EIAs prior to operations or activities
    Requirements for Strategic EIAs for a broader suite of regular activities over a wider area
    Requirements for the monitoring and reporting of activities and impacts (or lack thereof)
    Assessment of cumulative impacts (e.g. marine sound, climate change, acidification)
    Strengthening of surveillance and security mechanisms to protect activities and resources
    • Significant ocean areas identified as requiring special consideration for industry operations
    Limitation of geographical scope of activities through area-based management that establishes new area limits to activities, including on the seabed (e.g. seamounts)
    New conflicting or competing activities with the expansion of marine genetic resource exploration and exploitation (e.g. around hydrothermal vents)
    Requirements for private sector input throughout the BBNJ Agreement implementation
    Higher costs: Due to additional administrative and reporting, technological and operational changes, R&D, and other increased investment in business practices
    Additional time and effort: Planning, preparation, declaration, authorization, reporting, etc.
    New strategic considerations: The need for new partnerships and cooperation mechanisms, changes due to new ocean areas becoming off limits or requiring special consideration
    New business and commercial opportunities: Technological, investment, resources, etc.

In late 2017, the U.N. agreed to start negotiations on the instrument under UNCLOS, following several years in which governments met in a U.N. Working Group and then a Preparatory Committee to identify the BBNJ Agreement’s elements. Negotiations are scheduled to conclude in 2020, but there are significant challenges in addressing the BBNJ topics and its impact on maritime activities which mean that more time may be needed. 

The World Ocean Council (WOC) has been participating in the BBNJ process since it began to ensure that the ocean business community is present and engaged. The WOC is working to develop the “BBNJ Business Coalition” as a means for coordinated industry involvement in the BBNJ process. The Coalition will seek to develop coordinated industry input to ensure that the BBNJ will be practical, implementable and engender constructive ocean business community engagement.

In preparation for the start of the BBNJ Negotiations, in 2018 the WOC released a report on Ocean Governance and the Private Sector.


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