In June 2023, States at the United Nations adopted a new framework for governing the global ocean commons. The BBNJ Agreement ("High Seas Treaty"), which was nearly 20 years in the making, has many different faces. Substantively, it governs the use of marine genetic resources from the ocean commons, but also aims for ocean conservation through marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments. Structurally, the Agreement was negotiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but its institutional elements are more akin to those in multilateral environmental treaties. And conceptually, it marries two central but often contrasting notions in the law of the sea, the freedom of the high seas and the common heritage of humankind.
How did the negotiators reconcile these seemingly contradictory strands? Does the resulting text mark a break from or a continuation of our approach to the global ocean commons? And how does the Agreement fit in with other global efforts to manage shared spaces and resources? This seminar will provide a view on the negotiations from the conference floor, shedding light on the main controversies and the compromises reached. It also paints the bigger picture, exploring whether the Agreement may help or hinder global efforts to tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
Bart Smit Duijzentkunst is a Visiting Fellow at the EUI Law Department, and on sabbatical research leave from the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) of the Office Legal Affairs of the United Nations. As a member of the secretariat to the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, Bart was closely involved with the negotiations and the drafting of the BBNJ Agreement.
Ríán Derrig is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute of the World Maritime University, a university within the United Nations system in Malmö, Sweden. Ríán was involved in the BBNJ negotiations as a legal advisor to State delegations. His book, The New Haven School: American International Law, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2024.
Dimitris Panousos is a Law PhD researcher at the EUI.