On 19 June 2023 the Treaty of the High Seas was adopted by consensus during the United Nations meeting in New York. This treaty is key to protect the ocean, promote equity and fairness, tackle environmental degradation, fight climate change, and prevent biodiversity loss in the high seas. It has been a priority for the European Union and its Member States, that have led negotiations at global level through the BBNJ High Ambition Coalition.
The adoption of this treaty, also known as “BBNJ” (biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction), is an historic achievement marking the successful end of more than a decade of multilateral work. This agreement is also a welcome addition to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides the legal framework under which all activities in the ocean take place.
The treaty will enter into force when 60 parties ratify it. The European Union has committed to support the treaty’s ratification and early implementation through the EU Global Ocean Programme of €40 million and has invited members of the High Ambition Coalition to do the same within their capabilities
What the treaty will bring – in a nutshell
- The BBNJ Treaty sets up a procedure to establish large-scale marine protected areas in the high seas. This facilitates the achievement of the target to effectively conserve and manage 30% of land and sea by 2030, which was agreed in December 2022 within the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
- It establishes the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources and foresees capacity building and the transfer of marine technology between the parties.
- It contains clear rules to conduct environmental impact assessments, with the right checks and balances, before running activities in the high seas.
The high ambition coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) was launched at the One Ocean Summit in Brest, on 11th of February 2022. The coalition gathers parties which are committed, at the highest political level, to achieve an ambitious outcome of the negotiations on a Treaty of the High Seas (“the implementing agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction”), under the auspices of the United Nations.
In March 2023, global negotiations concluded on the landmark Treaty of the High Seas.
As of 22 February 2023: Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia*, Comoros, Costa Rica, Egypt, Gabon, Iceland, India, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Peru, Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Congo, Singapore, Switzerland, Togo, the United Kingdom, the United States, the EU and its 27 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) have joined.
*This acceptance is without prejudice to the rights and interests of Colombia as a non-party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Areas beyond national jurisdiction comprise two-thirds of the world’s ocean and provide invaluable ecological, economic, social, cultural, scientific and food-security benefits to humanity.
However, these areas teeming with life are now vulnerable to growing threats, including pollution, overexploitation, and the impacts already visible of climate change. The increasing demand for marine resources in the coming decades – for food, minerals or biotechnology – threatens to exacerbate this problem.
Faced with these challenges, and following over a decade of preparatory work, the United Nations General Assembly agreed on the development of a new international agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).
The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty, agreed at the 5th Intergovernmental Conference in New York, is the fruit of more than a decade of global engagement to find solutions for this crucial global environmental issue.
Now that the negotiations are over, the agreement shall enter into force once 60 states have ratified it. The EU will work to ensure this happens rapidly and to help developing countries prepare for its implementation. To this end, the EU has pledged €40 million as part of a Global Ocean Programme and has invited members of the High Ambition Coalition to do the same within their capabilities.
The formal adoption of the treaty will take place once legal scrubbing in UN languages is complete.
The “BBNJ Treaty”, also known as the “Treaty of the High Seas”, is an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. This new instrument was developed within the framework of the United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the main international agreement governing human activities at sea. It will achieve a more holistic management of high seas activities, which should better balance the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.
The negotiations were centered around a package of elements agreed upon by the General Assembly in 2015, namely
- the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, in particular, together and as a whole, marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits
- area-based management tools, including marine protected areas
- environmental impact assessments
- capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology