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Isabelle comes from Växjö in the southern part of Sweden and she has studied law at Lund University. She is currently in the second year of the International Human Rights Law Master’s programme. Isabelle is especially interested in the connection between Environmental Law and International Humanitarian Law, but also women’s rights and the human rights approach to poverty reduction.
This summer the effects of climate change have been obvious, with several heat records, storms, and floodings. The ocean has mitigated the effects but the biodiversity in the ocean is and will be affected by the ocean´s rising temperatures as well as by polluters. The agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity (BBNJ) adopted on 19 June 2023 is, therefore, a welcome advance. This article will describe the four main areas of the agreement; Marine genetic resources, Area-based management tools including marine protected areas, Environmental impact assessment, capacity building and transfer of marine technology.
Climate change is an ever-pressing topic and during the summer of 2023 the world could see its effects. During the summer the hottest temperatures since the beginning of the measurements in 1980 were recorded. This resulted in heatwaves, wildfires, and flooding in different places around the globe. The oceans have played an important role in mitigating the effects of the rise in temperatures since the ocean absorbs trapped heat in the atmosphere. However, the trapped heat has resulted in the heating of the oceans. The rise in temperatures of the oceans has devastating effects with higher sea levels, more intense storms, and a decrease in marine biodiversity. In addition to the temperature rise there are several other threats to the biodiversity of the oceans such as plastic and chemical pollution, overfishing, and ecosystem degradation.
The agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity (BBNJ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) adopted on 19 June 2023 is therefore a welcome advance. BBNJ was adopted by consensus and opened up for signatures on 20 September 2023. So far BBNJ has 82 signatories. However, BBNJ will not enter into force until 60 states have ratified the agreement, and only then BBNJ will become a binding agreement between the parties. The signatories should on the other hand refrain from acts that go against the object and purposes of the treaty.
The Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity (BBNJ)
The agreement is applicable beyond national jurisdiction and the aim is to address the loss of biological diversity. In the preamble, it is recognized that such loss in particular is due to climate change´s impact on marine ecosystems. BBNJ has four main areas; marine genetic resources including the fair and equitable sharing of benefits, area-based management tools including protected marine areas, environmental impact assessments, capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.
Marine genetic resources
Activities with marine genetic resources may be carried out by all parties. It is in the interests of all states to advance scientific knowledge and to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity. Furthermore, the benefits arising from these activities shall be shared fairly and equitably. Non-monetary benefits shall be shared i.e. by access to samples, open access to scientific data, the transfer of marine technology and capacity building in developing states such as financing research programs. Monetary benefits from the utilization shall be shared fairly and equitably.
Area-based management tools including marine protected areas
To conserve and sustainably use certain areas the agreement has created a mechanism for states to propose and implement management tools including marine protected areas. Moreover, BBNJ also has a mechanism for emergency measures in the event of a natural phenomenon or human-caused disaster causing or being likely to cause serious harm to marine biological diversity.
Environmental impact assessment
This part of the agreement creates an obligation for states to conduct an environmental impact assessment on planned activities that take place in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Furthermore, it also establishes the steps for how the environmental impact assessment shall be done.
Capacity building and transfer of marine technology
Developing states should be supported in implementing the provisions of BBNJ through capacity building and transfer of marine technology. This can be done by for example sharing information, strengthening relevant infrastructure, strengthening technical expertise, and research collaboration.
Time will show how long it takes before the BBNJ enters into force. Bearing in mind the current crisis the BBNJ could certainly be one important measure to mitigate the effects of climate change on the oceans. The management tools and the obligation for states to do environmental assessments are important steps for the international community to prevent degradation of the ocean´s ecosystems.
NASA, Nasa Announces Summer 2023 Hottest on Record, https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3282/nasa-announces-summer-2023-hottest-on-record/, Sept 2023
National Geographic, Why are our oceans getting warmer, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/critical-issues-sea-temperature-rise, May 2023
European Commission, Global sea surface temperature reaches a record high,https://climate.copernicus.eu/global-sea-surface-temperature-reaches-record-high,August 2023
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Fast Facts- Marine Biodiversity: Landmark Agreement Adopted, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2023/08/marine-biodiversity-landmark-agreement-adopted/, August 2023
European Commission, Protecting the ocean, time for action- High Ambition Coalition on biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction https://oceans-and-fisheries.ec.europa.eu/ocean/international-ocean-governance/protecting-ocean-time-action_en
United Nations treaty collection, https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXI-10&chapter=21&clang=_en, October 2023