United Nations Convention of the Sea 2022

By Sally Campbell

What is the “International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction”?

“In its resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, the General Assembly of the UN decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, to consider the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015 on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible. (My bold). In accordance with resolution 72/249, the Conference held a three-day organizational meeting in New York, from 16 to 18 April 2018, to discuss organizational matters, including the process for the preparation of the zero draft of the instrument.

The first session was convened from 4 to 17 September 2018, the second session from 25 March to 5 April 2019 and the third session from 19 to 30 August 2019. The fourth session, which was postponed by decisions 74/543 and 75/570 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, was scheduled to be convened from 7 to 18 March 2022.” This is ICG4 (InterGovernmental Conference number 4).

Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction 4th Session 4-18 March 2022 New York

©Stephanie Keith/Greenpeace

In the last few years, over 100 governments have committed to protecting at least 30% of the oceans by 2030 (30×30). Earlier this year, 48 Heads of States and governments joined the High Ambition Coalition and committed to securing a Global Ocean Treaty this year to enable the delivery of 30×30. As 2030 is getting closer and closer, and as our oceans are facing more pressure than ever in history, the very same governments failed to reach an agreement at what was meant to be the last round of UN negotiations for a Global Ocean Treaty, that is so crucial to deliver effective protection of the oceans. At the end of the negotiation session, it is clear that we are in danger of this target becoming unachievable.

So, what actually happened? The comments following are drawn from Will McCallum’s notes of the events. Will is Greenpeace’s Head of Oceans Greenpeace UK.

The Greenpeace delegation to the UN Ocean Treaty negotiations (IGC4) has arrived home from the UN Headquarters in New York after a busy couple of weeks.

“Sadly, we didn’t land a Global Ocean Treaty, but we still have a huge opportunity to do so later in 2022. So read on for how we make that happen.

Firstly, on behalf of everyone in the Protect the Oceans team and our ocean allies outside of Greenpeace, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all of the offices who pushed out social content, lobbied their governments, arranged meetings with delegates in NYC, landed media hits and worked to secure the Global Ocean Treaty we need. These negotiations might feel remote, but the actions taking place in all of our countries are certainly felt during these discussions and it’s clear from the shifting debates that we are gaining momentum. It’s critical that we continue to build that pressure to secure a treaty in 2022, and to do that we’re going to need all offices engaged.

While there’s a lot more to do, I wanted to update you on progress at the negotiations and to give a little information about what to expect in the coming months. (Sally insert, we all need to be involved in persuading our government to act and participate to bring change about.)

What happens next? As you will read it is a continuous process!

• We will run through some initial ideas with our communities for how to keep up momentum ahead of IGC5 – but we will also want to have conversations with different offices about how to pile on the pressure at a national level.

• The President will provide a revised draft of the Treaty text in early May. The text will be as streamlined and clean as possible, with options for those outstanding issues that may need to be addressed at a higher political level.

• The aim is to have an IGC5 in August (2-week negotiations). To this end we will need a new UN General Assembly’s resolution and a budget allocated for it. The Singapore mission will start the process next week.

• Several delegations expressed the need to finish in 2022 (EU, CLAM, PSIDS, CARICOM, Australia, NZ, UK, US among others). We need to keep up the pressure – especially as even some champions (like Argentina) were wavering in their support for a timely finish.

• Intersessional work ahead of IGC5 will be crucial and many delegations expressed their willingness to engage formally and informally, and to continue to work on cross-regional proposals. However, we need to also find opportunities for informal intersessional work, such as at the UN Ocean Conference at the end of June, or other regional political fora.

• Many delegations called for the need to have civil society in the room

• The idea is to have a transparent, inclusive, effectively resourced, fully functional IGC5 in August, with full participation, overtime, parallel sessions, webcast etc.

• Given the IGC President style of chairing and her constant efforts to keep everyone happy and onboard, it’s important for delegations to keep up the pressure on her to facilitate the conclusions of the negotiations in August!

Some other specific developments include: See definitions of collective titles below.

NZ took on board our proposal for interim and emergency measures to be adopted by the COP as a safeguard in the event that action by other bodies is not timely enough to respond to serious threats or when other bodies are not able to act. NZ is shopping it around with other delegations (and let’s give a shout out to GPNZ!) so it would be great if NROs could bring this to the attention of their delegations

• The UK and EU are working with various delegations (AG, CLAM, CARICOM, PSIDS, Norway, Monaco, Canada, Australia, NZ) on a streamlined version of the key Treaty’s provisions on MPAs. We need to make sure that in the efforts of streamlining they don’t lower their ambition.

• There was support for a definition of MPAs that is focused on conservation, and for removing a reference to sustainable use (EU, PSIDS, UK, NZ, US, Monaco, AUS; and Norway is flexible!), which would make it impossible to create fully protected ocean sanctuaries- with the Caribbean group taking on board our suggested definition referring to areas where human activities can be “regulated, managed or prohibited”. However, some still want to retain Sustainable Use in the definition (including the G77, African Group, and Japan).

• There is growing support for the US’s proposal (e.g. from EU, UK) to use voting for the establishment of MPAs, while also allowing States Parties to “opt out” (or not to be bound) from the restrictions applying in the MPAs. Allowing the main users to opt out, would seriously undermine the effectiveness of an MPA, so this is something we need to watch out carefully. Japan, Iceland and Russia are still calling for all decisions to be taken by consensus, while China is willing to agree on voting for everything except MPAs!

• Unfortunately, Russia, supported by China and Nicaragua attempted to introduce text that would pave the way for this process extending beyond IGC5. Thankfully they were unsuccessful, but it shows how much work we need to do with members of the high ambition coalition to keep the timeline from slipping against this pressure.

• If you are curious and want to have a glimpse of what happened, here is the link to the concluding session as streamed on UNTV. h

So, there’s lots to do, but lots of cause for optimism. Thanks.

Will and the Protect the Oceans team
Will McCallum
Head of Oceans, Greenpeace UK

Understanding the abbreviations:
AG African Group
CLAM, Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.
CARICOM, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is a grouping of twenty countries: fifteen Member States and five Associate Members. It is home to approximately sixteen million citizens, 60% of whom are under the age of 30, and from the main ethnic groups of Indigenous Peoples, Africans, Indians, Europeans, Chinese, Portuguese and Javanese. The Community is multi-lingual; with English as the major language complemented by French and Dutch and variations of these, as well as African and Asian expressions. Stretching from The Bahamas in the north to Suriname and Guyana in South America, CARICOM comprises states that are considered developing countries, and except for Belize, in Central America and Guyana and Suriname in South America, all Members and Associate Members are island states. While these states are all relatively small, both in terms of population and size, there is also great diversity with regards to geography and population as well as the levels of economic and social development. They include a lot of oceans, inshore waters, ecosystems and small-scale fishermen and their communities.

PSIDS 9 other Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) represented at the UN, namely, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. These island states have a massive interest in Ocean Conservation and climate change.
COP Remember COP26 in Glasgow? The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, was the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, held at the SEC Centre in Glasgow, from 31 October to 13 November 2021. Delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the third meeting of the parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement (designated CMA1, CMA2, CMA3), and the 16th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP16).

un.org (2022) Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. Draft Report 16 March 2022
https://www.greenpeace.org.uk Ocean Sanctuaries
Greenpeace (2022) Protect the Oceans newsletter

Read a news piece from Greenpeace news, illustrating why we must all act: As governments failed to act, on the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace’s ship returning from the Weddell Sea in the South West Atlantic viewed a huge armada of fishing vessels on the high seas.

©Esteban Medina Martin/Greenpeace

As governments fail to agree Global Ocean Treaty, Greenpeace ship encounters armada of fishing vessels on high seas

Greenpeace International • 21 March 2022

Sally Campbell March 2021