At the end of the first post-Rio+20 meeting to consider legal measures for high seas protection, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) concluded that the ship has set sail; slowly and impeded by icy headwinds, but it has set sail.
Strong support to begin negotiations towards a new implementing agreement under the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) to protect and conserve marine biodiversity in the high seas came from many States including the G77 and China, the European Union, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand. But opposition, characterized by attempts to significantly slow forward momentum remained firm from a small minority.
The UN meeting on marine biodiversity, known as BBNJ, agreed to further discussion and reaffirmed their commitment to the Rio+20 ambition of conserving the high seas by deciding whether to have a new international instrument and to establish a process to prepare for negotiations of such an instrument.
With the determination of the BBNJ to continue working towards a negotiation, and to achieve this within the Rio+20 deadline, the process has now officially started towards the kind of high seas protection which scientists, civil society and many governments believe is essential.
Sofia Tsenikli of HSA member Greenpeace International said: “Governments have chosen yet again to invest more time in talking rather than acting to save the high seas. The ocean’s clock is ticking, we hope countries stop dragging their feet at the next round of talks, and finally give the go-ahead they should have done at Rio last year, for a new agreement to protect high seas marine life, which we all depend on to survive. “.”
The Rio+20 outcome document said that States should take a decision on the development of such an instrument by the end of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. This session starts in September 2014 and runs for 12 months.
A major concern arising from the meeting was the decision to exclude civil society from the deliberations. The high seas are a global commons, belonging to all humankind yet the High Seas Alliance (which alone represents tens of millions of citizens through its members) and other groups were denied the opportunity to contribute to the management of this area. The High Seas Alliance emphatically called on the meeting to ensure that civil society was fully involved in its future meetings.
Lisa Speer of NRDC said: “the high seas belongs to all humankind and it is in the interests of all humankind that civil society participates in discussions about its future and that those discussions are open, transparent and inclusive. There can be no justification for excluding scientists, academics, legal experts, and representatives of the millions of people speak for the oceans.”