Biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) Ecosystem approach

Operationalizing the Ecosystem Approach in the BBNJ Treaty

By: Vito De Lucia

PDF: Vito de Lucia_181022_NCLOS Blog.pdf

Matter commented on: 5th Session of the Intergovernmental Conference towards a new treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, Further Refreshed Draft Text, A/CONF.232/2022/CRP.13/Add.1

1         Introduction: IGC5 and the “Further Refreshed Draft Text”

After the long COVID hiatus and the digital intersessional discussions, the BBNJ negotiations re-started in earnest in 2022 with two sessions of the intergovernmental conference (IGC): the fourth and last of the sessions stipulated in the UNGA resolution (A/RES/72/249) that launched the IGC was held in March 2022; and an additional fifth session, inevitable given the state of the negotiations at the end of IGC4 was held in August 2022 (IGC5). While IGC5 was not conclusive, much progress was made on many of the key issues, and a series of revisions of the negotiating text were produced by the Presidency during IGC5 (so called “refreshed” texts), in order to streamline the negotiations. At the end of an intense negotiating session, and amidst renewed commitments to finalize the BBNJ treaty, IGC5 was suspended without a consensus on a text, but with the view of resuming the same fifth session as soon as possible in 2023 (rather than providing for a sixth session of the IGC). This clearly gives the sense of optimism about concluding the negotiations at the resumed session of IGC5, despite disappointment of the parts of many delegations, which gave rise to emotional closing statements, especially on the part of Pacific and Small Island State delegations, for the missed opportunity to close the deal in August, as reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB, p. 10). However, this new pause gives room for some last-minute reflections.

In this blog post, I shall take the opportunity to articulate some concrete suggestions for a meaningful integration of the ecosystem approach (EA) in the BBNJ treaty, by linking its role as one of the overarching principles with the role that strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) may play in its operationalization. The analysis proceeds on the basis of the provisions and formulations contained in the latest draft circulated during IGC5, the further refreshed draft text (A/CONF.232/2022/CRP.13/Add.1). It is important to note, however, that the further refreshed draft text does not necessarily represent consensus, as adamantly expressed by China (ENB, p.9) at IGC5, which stressed that “in the drafting of this document, all views should have been treated equally and the document should have reflected all issues” (ENB, p.9), emphasizing at the same time how the BBNJ negotiations is a state-led process. It is also unclear at this point whether this further refreshed draft text will be the basis for further negotiations at the resumed session of IGC5.