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Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement: Update

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

The agreement under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, known as the BBNJ agreement, will be laid before Parliament today. In line with the process for international treaties in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, the agreement will be scrutinised for at least 21 sitting days. An explanatory memorandum setting out the key provisions of the agreement will accompany the text.

The UK was one of the first countries to sign the BBNJ agreement when it opened for signature at the UN on 20 September 2023. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who signed for the UK, described it as

“a major victory for ocean protection and multilateral diplomacy.”

To date, it has attracted 82 signatures. 60 instruments of ratification are needed for the agreement to enter into force.

Primary legislation will be required before the UK can ratify the BBNJ agreement, to ensure compliance with obligations imposed by the agreement. In particular, obligations on notification of the collection and utilisation of marine genetic resources and associated digital sequence information, and for the conduct of environmental impact assessments for new activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The work to allow for ratification is being led by the ocean policy unit in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other Government Departments. Input is also being sought from science, research, innovation and industry stakeholders to ensure that UK implementation of the agreement is informed by expert advice. The views of UK civil society organisations are also being sought. Legislation is anticipated in the first session of a new parliament after a general election.

At the international level, UN General Assembly resolution 77/321 of 2 August 2023 welcomed the adoption of the agreement and called upon all states and regional economic integration organisations to consider signing and ratifying, approving, or accepting the agreement at the earliest possible date to allow its entry into force. It also requested the UN Secretary-General to strengthen the capacity of the division for ocean affairs and the law of the sea of the Office of Legal Affairs of the secretariat to undertake activities to promote a better understanding of the agreement, to prepare for the entry into force of the agreement and perform secretariat functions under the agreement until such time as the secretariat to be established under article 50 of the agreement commences its functions. The agreement was also placed on the General Assembly’s agenda for the current session to consider next steps.

The UK supports the establishment of a preparatory commission or similar body to take forward work to prepare for the implementation of the agreement and the first meeting of the conference of the parties once the agreement enters into force. We will continue to play a proactive role in this international work, working closely with others and, in particular, supporting the participation of developing countries in this process, and in their implementation of the agreement.