UN passes new oceans treaty to protect marine biological diversity

Ship operators will now need to comply with new regulations in areas beyond national jurisdiction

UN passes new oceans treaty to protect marine biological diversity


The new BBNJ treaty aims to protect marine biodiversity in waters outside of national jurisdiction

By Alice Chambers |

The United Nations (UN) passed a new oceans treaty that focuses on the conservation of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) on 4 March 2023.

The treaty, which was developed in cooperation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), aims to protect marine biodiversity on the high seas. It covers marine genetic resources including questions on benefit sharing, marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments and capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.

The UN series of conferences to develop the new BBNJ law began in 2018 but the IMO has been encouraging the measures for longer.

“Following almost two decades of discussions and negotiations, I am pleased to see the conclusion of the new legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which was finalised in New York on Saturday 4 March,” said Kitack Lim, general secretary at IMO. “This landmark achievement will no doubt reinforce efforts to protect biodiversity in line with the aims of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Kunming-Montreal Global Framework for Biodiversity.

“IMO has participated throughout the negotiations given the organisation’s mandate and expertise and will continue to participate, in the implementation of the new instrument. IMO looks forward to further strengthening our cooperation with Member States, the UN family and all other stakeholders.”

The treaty also means that ships will need to comply to updated policies beyond national jurisdiction such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by ships and the International Ballast Water Management Convention, which aim to prevent the transfer of potentially invasive aquatic species.

Other examples of IMO’s protective measures include rules on operational discharges, routing systems, keeping shipping away from whales’ breeding grounds and its mandatory Polar Code.

Read more about the treaty here

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