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The BBNJ contemplates carrying out environmental impact assessments related to activities such as the installation of renewable energies, mining operations or submarine cables.
After decades of negotiations, the members of the United Nations agreed on a unified treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas, that is, in over 60 percent of the world's oceans. Until now, these areas were not subject to any regulation.
It is the "Agreement Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction" (BBNJ Agreement). Below are some elements to understand the importance of this binding agreement.
What regulations does this agreement contain?
The BBNJ sets mechanisms to create marine protected areas as ocean sanctuaries. Besides regulating marine genetic resources, it establishes regulations for the management and protection of marine areas to conserve biodiversity and fight climate change.
It also contemplates carrying out environmental impact assessments related to activities such as the installation of renewable energies, mining operations or submarine cables.
The treaty promotes cooperation between countries for the protection of the oceans, as well as the creation and transfer of marine technologies.
For years, the negotiations were stalled due to issues such as the sharing of economic benefits from marine genetic resources, the mechanisms for carrying out environmental assessments on the high seas, the scope of national sovereignty, and the modalities of international governance.
The "fierce" negotiations were about redistribution of benefits of genetic patrimony from which "a few countries have benefited so far," recalled Guillermo Ortuño, co-director of the High Seas Specialist Group of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).
What will be the next step?
Once the text is signed, the complicated process of ratification and implementation will begin. Large companies are expected to lobby in different countries against the new regulations.
Nevertheless, "the BBNJ Agreement is the culmination of discussions that began in 2004 under the auspices of the United Nations to enhance the international legal regime concerning the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the oceans beyond the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of states," Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry commented, recalling that only 1 percent of the high seas is currently regulated.