Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas / New Ocean Paradigm on Its Biogeochemistry, Ecosystem and Sustainable Use (NEOPS)


Negotiations about the future of ocean management at the United Nations

Robert Blasiak, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo

Throughout human history, the oceans have occupied a special place in people's minds – simultaneously the source of bountiful resources, natural disasters, and great mystery. In recent decades, advancements in technology and a growing demand for natural resources have caused human activities in remote areas of the ocean, and within the depths of the ocean, to increase. At the same time, management of the oceans is, in some ways, split in half – with around half of the world's ocean area falling under the national jurisdiction of individual states, while around half of the world's ocean area is comprised of “areas beyond national jurisdiction” (ABNJ) where no single state has the authority to make decisions about conservation, management or exploration of natural resources, and where cooperation among the countries of the world is of crucial importance.

The United Nations headquarters in New York.

A key issue related to ABNJ that has attracted growing attention in the past decades is how to conserve and manage the biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution (69/292) to create a preparatory committee to begin discussing aspects of BBNJ. Two meetings of the BBNJ Preparatory Committee were held in 2016, and NEOPS researchers attended both meetings. They have supported the process by contributing to a better understanding of the negotiations and relevant issues with scientific publications.

In one publication, NEOPS researchers have drawn comparisons between the BBNJ negotiations and the negotiations that resulted in the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreements (UNFSA), which closed a governance gap with regard to the management of fish stocks that are distributed across national waters and ABNJ. In both cases, striking a balance between conservation and sustainable use of natural resources has been of crucial importance, yet this is even more the case for BBNJ due to the inclusion of marine genetic resources as a negotiating element.

The second meeting of the BBNJ preparatory
committee (September 2016).

In a second publication, researchers from the NEOPS project and their collaborators worked together to identify the capacity of different states to meaningfully contribute to the BBNJ negotiations. Of particular concern here were the high turnover within delegations, and potential imbalances in the scientific and legal expertise of states to engage in the negotiations. Small island developing states and least developed countries, in particular, seem to face challenges in this regard.

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