The international ocean community is converging at the UN headquarters August 19-30 for yet another round of negotiations on the treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). While expectations are high that countries will adopt the treaty by 2020, finding common ground between competing principles remains challenging for negotiators.

The last session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in April exposed a multitude of opposing views on different elements of the proposed treaty. Here is a closer look at issues that will need to be addressed in this IGC session to finalize the agreement by 2020. 


The negotiations on BBNJ started in late 2018, after an intensive 14-year discussion involving an Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group (WG) and a Preparatory Committee at the UN. 

It was during this intensive discussion period that the international community concluded that, while the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the overall framework for ocean activities, it divides the ocean into multiple jurisdiction spaces based solely on distance from the coast. This arrangement disregards the interlinkages between the resources within these spaces (see map below). The international community also acknowledged that UNCLOS requires the cooperation of states for both the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Transfer of Marine Technology, but the treaty does not provide guidelines or frameworks on how states should cooperate to achieve those obligations. In addition, resulting from scientific and technological developments unforeseen at the time UNCLOS was negotiated in 1973, new types of resources have emerged that lack a proper legal framework under UNCLOS, such as Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs).