Key success for the protection of the oceans
Germany is one of the first states to sign the UN Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction in New York
Today, Germany signed the BBNJ Agreement (on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction). Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Environment Minister Steffi Lemke both participated in the signing ceremony in New York. The international community adopted the Agreement in June by consensus. Germany had worked for years towards the successful conclusion of the negotiations. The Agreement will enter into force 120 days after 60 states have ratified it. The goal is for this to happen before the next UN Ocean Conference, which is to be held in France in 2025. Expeditious ratification is a top priority for Germany. The Agreement will make it possible to establish marine protected areas in the high seas in which nature will be undisturbed.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock:
The BBNJ Agreement is a glimmer of hope for the whole world. Although the high seas account for two thirds of the oceans, they have in all practical terms remained unregulated as regards environmental issues. With regard to biodiversity, in particular, we were unable to protect our high seas because of this regulatory gap. This Agreement changes that. This Agreement is also a glimmer of hope for the United Nations. It is true that the process leading to this Agreement was long. It lasted 15 years. But the process also showed how important it is for us to work together in the United Nations, especially on tough topics, and to be prepared to persevere. Because if we do, we produce agreements that benefit the entire world.
Environment Minister Steffi Lemke:
The UN BBNJ Agreement is a pioneering step towards the international protection of the oceans – and a major success for multilateralism. Germany has today signed the Agreement as one of the first states to do so, and has also pledged its financial support. These are important cues to spur us all into action. For the first time ever, there are now rules protecting biodiversity in the world’s oceans. Healthy oceans are vital if we are to combat the climate crisis, the pollution crisis and species loss. We must now act fast to designate protected areas in the high seas in order to place 30% of the oceans under strict protection. I will campaign for this Agreement to be put into practice. The protection of the oceans is nothing less than the protection of the resources on which the life of all humanity depends.
The BBNJ Agreement applies to an area that covers roughly 40% of the Earth’s surface. Protected areas can be designated in the high seas and in the so-called “Area” (seabed and ocean floor beyond the limits of national jurisdiction). Human activities are restricted in these areas. This can affect activities such as fishing, shipping or seabed mining. The Conference of States Parties will cooperate on this aspect with organisations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Seabed Authority and regional fisheries organisations.
Marine biodiversity is suffering because of the increasing exploitation of the oceans and the effects of climate change. The temperature of the world’s oceans has risen to a record high this year. The function of protected areas as rest and refuge areas means that they can be used as climate protection instruments, for example to enhance the resilience of the oceans. The BBNJ Agreement thus makes an important contribution to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 13 and 14 on climate action and life below water.
The BBNJ Agreement also obliges states to conduct environmental impact assessments on the effect on the high seas of any relevant planned human activities, in order to keep the impact on the marine environment to a minimum. The Agreement also governs the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology to developing countries.
Particularly to be welcomed is the fact that the Agreement makes it possible for marine protected areas to be designated by a three-quarters majority should it prove impossible to reach consensus, and that it imposes direct obligations on states, which can in case of doubt be clarified by recourse to the existing dispute settlement mechanisms of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (e.g. the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, the ICJ or arbitration).
The high seas make up two-thirds of all the world’s oceans and are not subject to the jurisdiction of any state. The BBNJ Agreement contains detailed rules on the protection of biodiversity and closes a longstanding governance gap.
The BBNJ Agreement will enter into force 120 days after 60 states have ratified it. A state must sign the Agreement before beginning its ratification process. According to the UN, some 20 states intended to sign the Agreement almost as soon as it was opened for signature. Germany’s ratification process includes obtaining parliamentary approval for the Agreement in the form of an Implementing Act.
Once the Agreement has entered into force, a Conference of Parties (COP) will be established. The Conference of Parties may adopt decisions on the designation of protected areas in the high seas and make recommendations about the protection of biodiversity to other international organisations, such as the International Maritime Organisation. In addition, the COP will also take the necessary arrangements for setting up and hosting the BBNJ secretariat. Germany will promote the implementation of the BBNJ Agreement through the International Climate Initiative (ICI). Germany has moreover launched a marine “offensive” against environmental pollution of the seas and for the improved management of biodiversity, which will tackle the issues both at national and international level.