WMU Contributes to Negotiation of Historic BBNJ Agreement

WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute (GOI) negotiators- Dr. Mariamalia Rodríguez Chaves, Postdoctoral Scholar; Dr. Kahlil Hassanali (WMU alumnus 2022); Ms Alumita Talei Sekinaira (current MSc student specializing in Ocean Sustainability, Governance & Management); and Professor Ronan Long, Director of the GOI.

The World Maritime University (WMU) scholarly community is proud to have supported the negotiation of the agreed text of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement through various stages of the negotiation process at United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ) over the past six years. Once it comes into force, this landmark Agreement aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, which account for over two thirds of the world’s oceans.  

In her capacity as President of WMU, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry said that she is absolutely delighted with the outcome of the negotiations. According to its draft preamble, she points out that the new Agreement will help address the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change impacts on marine ecosystems, and pollution including plastic pollution, as well as ocean acidification and unsustainable use of ocean resources. She wished to acknowledge the contribution of faculty, alumni, and students among those who negotiated and advised on the development of the agreed text of the Agreement. The World Maritime University (WMU) - Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute, under the leadership of Professor Ronán Long, played a significant role supporting the work of the Intergovernmental Conference since its establishment. This included hosting high profile conferences, seminars and workshops bringing scholars, policy makers and negotiators together at WMU to discuss key elements of the negotiations; publishing reports, books and other scholarly materials engaging with the ongoing negotiations; hosting and participating in side events at UNHQ; as well as by contributing expertise through the active participation of faculty, researchers and students in the whole negotiation process at the UN. 

“This form of high-level academic engagement and collaboration with international treaty-making processes bodes well for the future of WMU as a pre-eminent academic body in maritime and ocean affairs”, said Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry. “We can all take pride in the outcome and in our vital contribution to the negotiation of this historic instrument for the future of humanity.”

Professor Long, who attended the final rounds of the negotiations as a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) delegation, noted the successful conclusion of the agreed text of the BBNJ Agreement under the brilliant leadership of H.E. Rena Lee from Singapore. This represented a major victory for multilateralism and the rule of international law at a precarious time for intergovernmental relations. As such, he believes that it marks a major milestone in the codification and further development of the Law of the Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

Once it comes into force, the treaty will provide an international framework for employing area based management tools, including marine protected areas, to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. A central aspect of the Agreement is aimed at regulating environmental impact assessments at both project and strategic levels, offering possibilities to protect precious and fragile ecosystems from human activities. The Agreement’s regulation of how marine genetic resources and digital sequence information from such areas may be used, and how their benefits will be shared among all states, represents a fundamental effort to achieve fair distribution of a new and potentially valuable resource. In doing so, it provides sophisticated rules and mechanisms for the sharing of monetary and non-monetary benefits. These provisions are tied to building and developing the capacity of states parties, particularly developing states parties. Crucially, through its provisions on capacity-building and transfer of marine technology, the Agreement seeks to pursue fairer access for developing states’ to areas beyond national jurisdiction in order to participate in the management, conservation and sustainable use of these ocean areas and their resources. 

From the perspective of WMU, Professor Long noted that the financial provisions and mechanisms are some of the most important aspects of the Agreement given the University’s proven success in undertaking capacity development for the IMO treaty regime over the past four decades. 

One of the lead negotiators for the European Union on the capacity building and technology transfer provisions in the agreed text, Mr. Carl Grainger of the Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland, thanked the entire team from WMU for their contribution to the successful conclusion of this phase of the process at UNHQ. He said that ‘…the World Maritime University showed to the BBNJ delegates what world class capacity building and women’s empowerment really look like in practice.’ Furthermore, he expressed the view that the University has a major role to play in making the treaty a success in the longer term.

Representing Palestine and the lead negotiator for the G77 and China on capacity building and technology transfer, Mr. Fuad Bateh said that many delegations were very grateful for the incisive outreach and engagement events hosted by WMU over recent years, including during the crucial intersessional periods leading up to the final sessions of the conference. He described the WMU events as ‘world class’ and that they paved the way for the next phase of awareness raising and the rolling out of new capacity building programmes to support the special interests and needs of developing states, most especially. 

An aspect of the Agreement that is intrinsic to the mission of WMU relates to empowerment of women and human rights in ocean affairs. On this issue, Dr. Mariamalia Rodríguez-Chaves from Costa Rica, who is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute and the Latin America BBNJ coordinator for the High Seas Alliance, noted that there is still a long way to go adding, “This week the Agreement marked a new milestone by using gender sensitive language in its agreed text and thus becoming the first Law of the Sea instrument with gender balance references, setting the way forward in recognizing the critical role of women in ocean science and ocean governance developments.’ She noted that this is a very positive development and accords with key findings of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada and Nippon Foundation, which sponsor the WMU-GOI Empowering Women for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development Programme that is endorsed as an Ocean Decade Action by IOC-UNESCO.

With regard to positives in the broader Agreement, Dr. Kahlil Hassanali, a recent WMU alumnus who served as lead negotiator for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the environmental impact assessment provisions, said that from the perspective of Caribbean countries, they were happy to see the common heritage of humankind and the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) recognized in the treaty. The guaranteed funding being made available for capacity building and technology transfer is also heartening, along with guaranteed SIDS representation on the capacity building and transfer of marine technology (CBTMT) committee. Lastly, Caribbean countries welcome the benefit sharing regime to be established, as it relates to both marine genetic resources and digital sequence information and would apply to both monetary and non-monetary benefits.

In welcoming these developments, President Doumbia-Henry said, “the draft text of the BBNJ Agreement recalls the effectiveness and bright promise of multilateral lawmaking, as well as the importance of the United Nations in norm setting for the international community. It signals the urgent necessity of capacity building to achieve fairer global participation in maritime and ocean governance, which is central to the academic mission of WMU. We look forward to supporting the international community with many of the tasks that need to be completed to ensure that the Agreement comes into force and is successfully implemented in due course.” She congratulated H.E. Ambassador Rena Lee from Singapore for her formidable leadership in bringing this critical and complex phase of the negotiations to a safe harbour, as well as for her commitment to supporting the work and scholarship of the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute on the draft BBNJ Agreement.  She firmly believes that there is a bright future ahead for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind thanks to the positive outcome of these marathon and complex negotiations.

About the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute

The vision of the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute is to act as an independent focal point for the ocean science-policy-law-industry-society interface where policy makers, the scientific community, regulators, industry actors, academics, and representatives of civil society meet to discuss how best to manage and use ocean spaces and their resources in accordance with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Institute was inaugurated in May 2018 and made possible through generous support from The Nippon Foundation of Japan, the Governments of Sweden, Canada, and Germany, as well as the City of Malmö. 

Some of the WMU BBNJ related engagements and activities include:

  • 2019 - International Workshop: On 7 February, WMU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan hosted an International Workshop on BBNJ. The workshop brought together over 100 participants to address the topic of ‘Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ): Toward Development of Balanced, Effective and Universal International Agreement’. Press release here

  • 2019 - International Conference: From 15-16 May, the 43rd Annual Center for Oceans Law and Policy (COLP) Conference took place at WMU. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Law, the WMU–Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute, and The Nippon Foundation. The conference focused on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction: Intractable Challenges & Potential Solutions. Press release here

  • 2019 - Side event at BBNJ IGC-2, UN HQ; On 30 August at the United Nations Headquarters, as part of the Third Session of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, WMU President, delivered a keynote address at the side event entitled ‘Capacity-Building, Gender Empowerment and the BBNJ Agreement.’ The event had a particular focus on the special needs of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and how capacity building can help address the gender gap in ocean related industries. Press Release here

  • 2020 - Workshop Report: On 12 May 2020, WMU released the BBNJ Workshop and the UNHQ Side Events Report. The former reviews the ‘‘Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ): Towards the Development of a Balanced, Effective and Universal International Agreement” event that was held by WMU in February 2019 with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Press release here

  • 2021 - Academic Volume: On 10 March 2021, WMU announced the new book on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) being freely available online. The volume is jointly edited by Professor Myron Nordquist, Center for Oceans Law and Policy (COLP) at the University of Virginia and by Professor Ronan Long, Director of the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute. Press release here

  • 2022 - International Conference: From 10-13 October, world leading experts on Maritime Law and Law of the Sea contributed to the IMO-WMU Joint International Academic Conference: Protecting the Ocean - Moving forward at 50: London Convention & Stockholm Declaration, hosted at WMU. The intent was to help raise awareness and discuss ocean- and climate-related topics under the framework of the London Convention and Stockholm Declaration's 50th anniversaries with the objective to achieve new research insights and establish impactful actions. As part of this conference, one panel addressed the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement, with a keynote address from Ambassador Rena Lee, President of the BBNJ Conference and Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues and Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Singapore.and contributions from lead negotiators of the process. Press release here

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