Countries hope to bring the BBNJ or High Seas treaty into force by 2025

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:
The Blue Leaders High-Level Event on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) was held in Belgium on March 7, 2024, to urge nations to ratify a new treaty to protect the high seas from pollution, climate change and overfishing.

About BBNJ: 

  • The process for developing the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty began in earnest in 2015, following a UNGA resolution to form a Preparatory Committee for its creation. 
  • However, the idea of protecting the marine environment, particularly in areas beyond national jurisdiction, emerged as early as 2002. 
  • By 2008, the need for implementing such an agreement was recognized, laying the groundwork for subsequent actions leading to the treaty's adoption.
  • The treaty entails several key components aimed at addressing critical issues affecting marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. 
  • These include establishing marine protected areas, ensuring fair sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources, enhancing scientific cooperation and information sharing, and building capacity in marine technology and environmental impact assessment.

Key Points: 

  • Call to Action: This treaty, formally known as the Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty), was adopted in March 2023 and has garnered signatures from 88 countries. 
    • However, only Chile and Palau have ratified it thus far, with ratification by at least 60 countries needed for the treaty to come into effect.
  • Need for Global Participation: The BBNJ Treaty, open for signature since September 20, 2023, aims to enhance the protection of the high seas, which currently lack adequate safeguards despite covering a vast portion of the global ocean. 
    • The treaty seeks to increase the percentage of protected areas in these waters and ensure equitable sharing of profits from marine genetic resources (MGRs). 
    • It establishes guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), particularly for activities like ocean-based carbon sequestration and deep-sea mining.
  • India’s Support & Global Concerns: While India has yet to sign the treaty, it expressed support for its implementation during the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration in September 2023. 
    • Experts acknowledge the need for continued efforts to secure the necessary ratifications and ensure the treaty's timely implementation, underscoring the urgency of protecting the oceans from further harm.

Key Challenges & Concerns:

  • Navigating Post-Ratification Challenges: Even after ratification, countries must address numerous challenges to effectively implement the BBNJ Treaty. 
    • These challenges include establishing operational procedures for treaty bodies, determining budgets, and selecting a suitable location for the Secretariat.
  • Hosting the Secretariat: Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo offered to host the BBNJ Secretariat in Brussels during the Blue Leaders event, indicating potential progress in addressing logistical concerns.
  • Enhancing Marine Life Protection: Countries must also work towards large-scale protection of marine life to combat the escalating climate and biodiversity crises. 
  • Adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework: The target of safeguarding at least 30% of marine life by 2030, established during the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, highlights the significance of high seas protection. 
  • Time Constraints and Urgency: With the Treaty potentially entering into force in 2025, there is a pressing need to accelerate efforts towards high seas protection. This urgency emphasizes the critical importance of meeting the 2030 target amidst the looming environmental challenges.
  • Challenges in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): There are concerns regarding the effectiveness of the EIA process outlined in the BBNJ Treaty. 
    • There is a need for direct investment in scientific research to enhance the effectiveness of EIA processes and ensure informed decision-making under the BBNJ Treaty.
  • Strengthening Scientific Support: 
    • Experts argue that without robust scientific support, the goals of conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction may not be achieved.
    • It was proposed to bolster scientific research through a robust and empowered Scientific and Technical Body.

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