Researchers’ Contribution to the international negotiations on Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction Negotiation

By Senia Febrica

The One Ocean Hub webinar series on the intergovernmental conference on an international legally binding instrument 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 treaty) on 23rd-25th November 2020 highlighted the complexities of issues covered during the negotiations and how researchers can best contribute to this international process. This is a series of capacity-building events that Dr Senia Febrica has organised to support Hub researchers that have never engaged in UN processes, so that we can better understand the Hub’s opportunities for international impact. These events involved external partners, including United Nations officers and international negotiators, as well as external academics, both as speakers and as attendees.

The first webinar was led by Professor Elisa Morgera, Director of the One Ocean Hub, the University of Strathclyde. During the first day, United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UNDOALOS) legal officers, Mr. Fernando Cabrera Diaz, Ms Alice Hicuburundi, Ms Valentina Germani, and Ms Jessica Howley provided a comprehensive explanation on the purpose, history, procedural aspects, and topics identified in the BBNJ negotiations. Two UN-Nippon alumni, Mr Randy Bumbury, the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Fisheries, Guyana and Dr Mariamalia Rodríguez Chaves, High Seas Alliances, shared their experience in participating in the BBNJ negotiations, what they do to prepare themselves for the process, the challenges that they face, their strategy to overcome challenges, and what they find exciting from this negotiation.

Mr Randy Bumbury from the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Fisheries, Guyana, explained that preparation (including consultations with different ministries and stakeholders at the national level, regional coordination, as well as understanding of other delegations’ positions) is the hardest process for a negotiator. He suggested that researchers can help negotiators tremendously by enhancing their knowledge of challenging, complex, and contentious topics identified under the BBNJ negotiations such as such as marine genetic resources (MGRs). He also noted interest in being informed of opportunities to collaborate with researchers, and advance understanding on the role of the BBNJ negotiations for capacity building and technology transfer. Dr Mariamalia Rodríguez Chaves from High Seas Alliances stressed the importance for researchers to ensure that their contributions are easily understood by non-specialist audiences and succinct; and that research findings should be related to the wording of different national delegations’ negotiating proposals. Drawing from her experience as a representative of non-governmental organisation in the BBNJ negotiations, Dr Chaves further pointed out to the usefulness of sharing information from different regions, and creating informal networking spaces. Ms Alice Hicuburundi, UNDOALOS, stressed the opportunity for researchers to support negotiators’ understanding of the inter-relationships between the different elements of the package under negotiation including marine genetic resources and questions on the sharing of benefits; measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments; and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology. In addition, Dr Chaves finally noted the importance of better understanding the relationship between high seas governance and benefits/impacts on coastal communities.

Discussion in the second webinar was facilitated by Mr Mitchell Lennan, the University of Strathclyde. During the second day of the webinar, our panellists including Professor Richard Barnes, the University of Lincoln; Professor Clive Schofield, the World Maritime University; Dr Arianna Broggiato, the European Commission; Dr Tobias Schonwetter, the University of Cape Town; Dr. Emmanuel Acheampong, the University of Cape Coast; and Dr Alana Lancaster, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill addressed the questions on the institutional and regulatory gaps in high sea fisheries and how the BBNJ can address the existing gaps; the existing principles of “adjacency” and “due regard” in finding the best approach to balancing the rights and obligations of coastal states; and various issues related to the negotiations of marine genetic resources and benefit sharing under the treaty.

Professor Clive Schofield, the World Maritime University, suggested that to make an impact, researchers need to tease out the hard questions, narrow down where the problem needs to be addressed, and provide a suite of possible solutions to address it. Dr Arianna Broggiato, European Commission, pointed out how researchers play a fundamental role in shaping the EU position in the BBNJ negotiation. On MGRs, for instance, Dr Broggiato explained that researchers have provided valuable technical understanding on how science is done in MGRs collection, sampling, and databases.

During the third webinar, facilitated by Dr Alana Lancaster, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, our panellists including Dr Daniela Diz, Heriot Watt University; Mr Kahlil Hassanali, a PhD candidate at the World Maritime University; Dr Zaki Mubarok Busro, a research fellow at the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy, the University of Indonesia; Dr James Bell, CEFAS; Ms Tanya Wagenaar, Nelson Mandela University; and Dr Bolanle Erinosho, the University of Cape Coast elaborated issues related to area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments; and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology that are being negotiated as part of the BBNJ treaty.

Mr Kahlil Hassanali, a PhD candidate at the World Maritime University, recommended sharing key research findings in a digestible form both to policy makers and to the general public.

The One Ocean Hub is carrying out research across the marine and social sciences, law and arts, that can contribute to all the elements of the package discussed in the BBNJ negotiations, with a particular emphasis on the inter-connections among these elements, as well as between fairness and sustainability.