UN releases draft of new, legally binding Law of the Sea regulations

Image: National Geographic Society
Image: National Geographic Society

The United Nations has released a 50-page initial version of a new, legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement is being developed as part of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to strengthen the regulation of activities and the conservation of marine biological resources in the international ocean area covering 41 per cent of the earth, the World Ocean Council (WOC) said in a statement.

Specifically, the agreement seeks to create new high seas regulations governing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and marine protected areas (MPAs).

The WOC claims the BBNJ Agreement will have potential ramifications including but not limited to the following:

• New, stricter requirements and controls by states over the activities conducted by companies under their control or jurisdiction

• 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)

• Higher costs: Due to additional administrative and reporting, technological and operational changes, R&D, and other increased investment in business practices

The final version of the new regulations is expected to be released in 2020 upon the conclusion of a series of four negotiations under UNCLOS by governments in a UN working group and then a preparatory committee. The third negotiation is scheduled for August 2019.

The WOC, an accredited observer to the BBNJ negotiations, has formed the WOC BBNJ Business Coalition to ensure that inputs from various key ocean industry organisations and companies are properly relayed to negotiators.

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