Skip to content .

Service navigation

Main Navigation


Further information

Link to opens in a new window


Statements in International Organisations


United Nations - General Assembly: Ad-Hoc Open-ended Informal WG to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction; Agenda item 5(e) (New York)

Statement on behalf of the European Union by Mr. Aleksander Čičerov, Minister Plenypotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the United Nations


Please check against delivery


Co-Chairpersons, I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, complemented by a variety of treaties and organizations regulating specific activities, composes the international framework designed to manage human activities in ABNJ. Under this agenda item the EU will first address the question whether the existing international legal and institutional framework operates in a manner consistent with the obligations of states to protect and preserve the marine environment and conserve and manage its biodiversity. In a next step the EU will elaborate further on various medium and short-term options to address these gaps.

The strong increase in human activities, such as fishing, shipping and the laying of pipelines, in combination with the effects of climate change, has resulted in an ever-growing pressure on the marine environment. The recognised fact that these pressures result in actual destruction of marine ecosystems is in itself a strong indication that various human activities are currently insufficiently regulated, and that regulatory and governance, as well as implementation, gaps do exist. At the very least, the EU would like to reach a shared analysis of the existence and nature of these gaps during this week's discussions.

Regulatory gaps can be defined as gaps in the international legal framework, which can be both substantive and geographical in nature, in other words, issues which are currently de facto unregulated or insufficiently regulated at a global, regional or sub-regional level. The EU identifies two regulatory gaps as being of primary importance:

Firstly, in many of the ocean regions there are no legally binding instruments that provide integrated coverage for the management of the various ocean-based human activities, such as fisheries, and biodiversity conservation. Regional seas conventions with a wide-ranging mandate in ABNJ are limited to a few ocean regions.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that a number of existing as well as new and emerging activities and threats in ABNJ are de facto unregulated or insufficiently regulated. Indeed, high seas freedoms are not absolute. They are to be exercised under the conditions provided for in UNCLOS and other rules of international law. They are, inter alia, conditioned by obligations not to cause damage to the environment of other states and the general obligations under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment and to fulfill their duties to cooperate with other states. Activities, for which detailed international rules and standards are currently lacking, include inter alia appropriate handling of marine genetic resources, ocean noise, potential construction and operation of floating energy and aquaculture facilities, and various climate change mitigation techniques, such as ocean fertilization and carbon capture, storage and sequestration techniques. Other gaps include the sustainable management of discrete fish stocks.

Governance gaps, on the other hand, can be defined as gaps in the international institutional framework, including the absence of institutions or mechanisms at a global, regional or sub-regional level and inconsistent mandates of existing organizations and mechanisms.

The EU identifies the following governance gaps as most important in ABNJ on a global level:

  • The general duty under UNCLOS to cooperate has been elaborated for fisheries through the UNFSA and RFMOs. However, a similar construct refining the duty to cooperate for the protection and preservation of the marine environment does not exist.
  • The general environmental obligations contained in treaties such as UNCLOS, CBD and UNFSA are insufficiently operationalised through the development and application of modern environmental principles and management tools.
  • For these principles, such as the ecosystem approach and precautionary principle, and tools, such as spatial planning, networks of representative MPAs, environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment, no detailed international rules or standards exist to assist their coherent application to the full range of ocean-based human activities having an effect on ABNJ within the context of relevant global and regional instruments.
  • At present, few  mechanisms exist to ensure coordination and cooperation within and across sectors, states and institutions.
  • There is no institution or mechanism in place to assess and address the cumulative environmental impacts of existing and emerging activities, in terms of the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment and conserve and manage its biodiversity.
  • There is no mechanism or process in place for a structural review of implementation of different management measures.
  • The is no institution or mechanism to ensure effective compliance and enforcement, including a legal framework for non-flag enforcement at global and regional levels, for all activities and measures to protect the international communities' interest in safeguarding marine biodiversity and the environment in ABNJ.

Based on this analysis, the EU has come to the conclusion that regulatory and governance gaps do indeed exist. These gaps are aggravated by the lack of participation in, and implementation of, existing international instruments, as well as by the lack of effective compliance and enforcement for all activities and conservation measures.

The EU stresses the need to address these gaps. We stand ready to cooperate in this respect, and have to this end identified medium and short-term options.

How these gaps should be addressed – medium term options

In the medium term the EU remains of the view that ultimately an Implementation Agreement under UNCLOS would be the most effective option in order to provide an integrated regime and address in a comprehensive manner the multiplicity of challenges facing the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in ABNJ. In particular, this instrument would be critical to fill the gaps preventing the international community from ensuring an adequate protection of marine biodiversity in ABNJ, notably as far as the establishment of MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction is concerned.

The agreement would cover currently unregulated activities, ensure consistent application of modern ocean governance principles in sectoral management regimes and provide for enhanced international cooperation by establishing a process whereby the Parties to the agreement would agree on:

  • the designation of marine areas in need of protection in ABNJ on the basis of established criteria;
  • the conduct of comprehensive cumulative assessment of the impact of humane activities in the area concerned;
  • the establishment of ecological objectives on the basis of this assessment;
  • inviting the competent sectoral bodies covering the area concerned to act in view of achieving these ecological objectives;
  • reviewing the progress realised towards reaching these objectives.

The agreement would therefore aim to render operational the general UNCLOS provisions on the protection of marine environment and would not encroach upon the competencies of existing bodies.

How these gaps should be addressed – short term options

In addition to this medium term option, the EU would like to put forward several initiatives that could be taken forward in the immediate future, in order to address these gaps.

We share the views expressed by many delegations that implementation gaps are a major problem. For traditional, well-established activities, for which sectoral regulatory structures are in place, targeted measures to improve implementation and enforcement of existing commitments need to be developed. For instance, for fisheries urgent work is needed to better address inter alia destructive fishing practices, IUU fishing, bycatch, and to ensure better management of shark stocks. To this end, the coverage of RFMOs should, where necessary, be extended to ensure a more complete geographical coverage for a larger amount of species and their mandates and practices should be geared towards a more conservation-oriented approach. The ongoing performance review of RFMOs plays a critical role in that regard and should be completed. The timely implementation of UNGA Resolution 61-105 by Flag States and RFMOs is another urgent priority. As echoed by many delegations, the poor implementation of current fisheries instruments is linked to the failure of some Flag States to discharge their duties under UNCLOS and ensure that vessels flying their flags are in compliance with the existing regulation. We think that these duties should be better specified. We support the ongoing work within the FAO on this question. Beyond Flag States duties, the development of Port State and market State measures against IUU fishing is of major importance to the EU and we join our voices to those delegations which have called for the elaboration in the coming months of a robust international agreement on Port State measures under the auspices of the FAO. The strengthening of Flag State and Port State mechanisms is also key to curb substandard shipping.

Regional seas conventions or agreements with a wide-ranging mandate are limited to a few ocean regions. The EU calls on States to establish such conventions or agreements in areas where they do not yet exist, including in the context of the UNEP regional seas programme, and encourages States to join the existing ones.

Like many other delegations, the EU is of the opinion that overarching oceans governance principles should be agreed upon, which in turn should lead to embedding these principles in the operational work of sectoral bodies. The EU will take initiatives along these lines at the upcoming negotiation of the resolution on Oceans and the law of the sea later this year.

In order to address the environmental impacts of human activities on BBNJ, guidelines need to be developed for the implementation of environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment, including the requirements for prior notification of such planned activities, building on ongoing sectoral and regional EIA efforts to introduce or consolidate provisions on EIA. The EU notes that strong support was expressed for this idea by many delegations. This could be done either in the setting of this Working Group, or in the context of the CBD. We welcome the suggestion to establish an expert group composed of experts from different relevant sectoral and regional organisation with a view to start the development of these guidelines. Such guidelines could be aimed at the regulation of activities that are de facto unregulated or insufficiently regulated, while also providing an EIA/SEA mechanism for possible new and emerging activities in ABNJ with a possible adverse effect to the marine environment in ABNJ. It would also provide a coordination procedure for addressing cumulative impacts across sectors, including elements such as ocean noise.

On the subject of area based management tools it is clear we need to increase our efforts in order to deliver WSSD and CBD commitments with regard to establishing networks of MPAs, both in areas within and beyond national jurisdiction. We are encouraged to have heard many delegations' support of the work achieved in the context of the CBD to establish a set of criteria for the identification of areas in need of protection in ABNJ. This set has been carefully developed through a scientific expert process, building fully on existing global, sectoral and regional criteria, such as those developed under FAO, IMO, OSPAR and HELCOM. We hope for a strong message from this working group, calling for the adoption of this set of criteria at the COP9.

On the basis of these criteria a list or register of areas in ABNJ in need of protection should be developed urgently, after which, through existing competent organisations, including IMO, ISA, RFMOs and regional seas conventions, a network of MPAs in ABNJ should be established, managed and enforced by 2010. In order to complete these tasks, coordination procedures for effective consolidation of efforts within the above-mentioned institutions need to be established.

Building on this process, and again through existing competent bodies, states could establish pilot MPAs in ABNJ and we have heard considerable interest for this idea from other delegations. This would allow us to gain experience on the necessary institutional coordination and cooperation procedures, while also providing for the initial protection of the ecologically most important areas and interesting research sites. This would require a partnership between the various countries involved, including those that this week have expressed a keen interest to engage in these pilot MPAs being developed.

EU will develop proposals for setting aside areas for MSR, and joint development of research cruises, including with participation from developing countries. Partnerships between key research bodies and institutes from various countries should be created. Also the sharing of information on MSR is a topic that needs to be addressed. Moreover, cooperation on Marine Scientific Research could be further developed through a variety of actions. The EU believes an integrated scientific assessment in an intergovernmental setting would have a significant added value. When the outcome of the "assessment of assessments" is available the GA will decide on options for a regular assessment process. Working through UNEP, UNESCO-IOC and the UNGA, and building on the work of existing initiatives, an assessment mechanism or system could be established, either through the setting up of a new body or via the extension of the scope and mandate of existing institutions or processes.

On marine genetic resources the EU considers it important to minimise potential impacts and to protect marine biodiversity from damages that may result from the collection and harvesting of MGR. The EU therefore suggests developing as a first step international guidance on the use of impact assessment on MGR in ABNJ. In addition, the EU believes that the fair and equitable benefit sharing in relation to marine genetic resources from ABNJ should deserve the full attention of the international community and, as we have already said, is open to have a discussion on this issue. As a short term step, the EU believes that attention should be given to the sharing of information and knowledge resulting from research on MGR that have been collected from ABNJ, as well as on increasing the participation of researchers from developing countries in relevant research projects. The EU also suggests to consider taking, in the medium term and as part of a wider integrated approach to conservation of marine biodiversity in ABNJ, steps for sharing in a fair and equitable manner benefits that arise when MGR that have been collected from ABNJ are put to a commercial use. The EU suggests that states could consider setting up a "multilateral system" for MGR in ABNJ, inspired by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. We are encouraged by the discussions this morning and by the openness of many delegations to look into this pragmatic approach and we hope that this can lead to actual progress being made in this discussion in the future.


The EU recognises that these short-term actions have their own distinctive limitations and shortcomings, and therefore continues to see the need for the more fundamental medium-term approach. However we believe these short-term options would serve as a constructive and cooperative agenda for the near term future. We have heard strong support for many of these proposals during this meeting, in particular in relation to ensuring the application of EIA/SEA, improving the knowledge base, the importance of a scientific assessment to inform decision-making, the application of scientific criteria and establishment of MPAs, the need for improved implementation and enforcement, and the recognition of the importance the consistent application of governance principles and the  integrated approach to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in ABNJ, building also on strong sectoral implementation and regional delivery of global commitments. We therefore would urge the co-chairs to take these up in their joint statement with a view for them to be taken forward as a matter of urgency. The EU remains strongly concerned about the rising anthropogenic pressures and the ongoing degradation of the marine ecosystems and the services and functions they provide. These short-term options have the advantage, given the urgency of the situation, that they would enable us to start taking action now.

The EU proposes the work of the Working Group should be further structured and consolidated with a view to facilitate further action to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In that context the Working Group should have its next meeting in 2009 and should report to the UNGA at its 64th session, so as to be able to consider progress and develop further options for the enhanced conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in ABNJ. Comprehensive results of the WG should be submitted to the UNGA by its 65 session at the latest, in order to facilitate the successful implementation of the 2010 and 2012 targets on biodiversity loss and the establishment of representative networks of MPAs.


Accessibility     . Print     .

Date: 05.05.2008