April 11, 2019

Negotiations on Governance of Marine Genetic Resources in the High Seas Move Forward

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Lynn Wagner

5 April 2019: Delegates at the second session of the Intergovernmental Conference to negotiate a new treaty for the high seas addressed options related to: marine genetic resources; area-based management tools including marine protected areas (MPAs); environmental impact assessments (EIAs); and capacity building and marine technology transfer.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary from the two-week meeting, officially called the ‘Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ),’ indicates that the “most all-encompassing core disagreement” during the talks was on general principles on and approaches to marine genetic resources. Delegations either wanted to treat these resources as the common heritage of humankind or to prioritize freedom of the high seas.

Delegates were unable to bridge the gaps on issues including: the scope of the instrument; whether benefit-sharing would be carried on a monetary or non-monetary basis; and the overarching principles governing the future international legally binding instrument, in particular the common heritage of humankind and the freedom of the high seas.

The ENB analysis notes that the issue of marine genetic resources attracted interest while also revealing well-documented disagreements. The latter include the potential inclusion of digital sequence information or derivatives – a topic for which, speakers noted, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has initiated a process that could inform IGC decisions.

On benefit-sharing, the subject of intellectual property rights (IPRs) attracted attention, with some delegates calling for respecting the role of bodies like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Speakers requested clarification on what such rights would entail, and some suggested addressing IPRs in the new instrument.

On EIAs, many delegates supported outlining the steps for conducting an EIA, although all did not agree on the compulsory, binding character of assessments, or on the responsible entity for conducting them.

IGC President Rena Lee, Singapore, will prepare and circulate a “no-options” document containing treaty text prior to the next negotiating session, which will convene in August 2019.