Press release

One Ocean Summit: Commitments of «High Ambition Coalition» not ambitious enough

February 11, 2022

On the final day of the One Ocean Summit, organised under the leadership of the French President, one highlight was the introduction of a Declaration by a newly formed High Ambition Coalition (HAC) on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. But while today’s declaration is certainly a commitment towards progress, it is simply not ambitious enough.

The timing of this new coalition is no coincidence. In March, negotiators from across the globe will gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the fourth and final intergovernmental conference on a new international legally binding treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty). The international marine conservation organisation OceanCare reacts to today’s declaration by the HAC at the One Ocean Summit in Brest, France.

High Ambition Coalition Declaration – a step in the right direction but not far enough

The new BBNJ Treaty is an opportunity to close existing gaps and to address weaknesses in ocean governance. It is also an opportunity to take meaningful action to address and manage transboundary pollution on the high seas. With the ocean increasingly put under pressure, the High Ambition Coalition’s (HAC) Declaration presented today at the high-level segment of the One Ocean Summit is a welcomed step towards protecting biodiversity on the high seas.

OceanCare strongly supports the acknowledgement that we all share a common responsibility for the Ocean and that there is an inherent need to “better steward marine areas beyond national jurisdiction”. Equally agreeable is the notion that the best way to conserve ocean life is to “secure a strong international legal framework, based on science, setting additional legal obligations and environmental tools for effective action”. The Declaration is however also a sobering reminder that much work is still to be done before negotiations formally resume at the fourth Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in March. The unprecedented nature of the current climate and biodiversity crisis necessitates bolder and more ambitious actions, which in some respects is not reflected within the HAC Declaration.

“The BBNJ Treaty is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect the high seas – the areas beyond national jurisdiction – from a wide range of transboundary pollutants, especially anthropogenic underwater noise. We have to understand that ocean conservation isn’t an altruistic effort, but an intrinsic need to secure a future for Homo sapiens on this planet,” says Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director at OceanCare. “As governments prepare for the fourth IGC, we hope they stand up to their responsibility and set higher goals than those reflected in the HAC Declaration. The current climate and biodiversity crisis will not forgive any further delay. Ambitious and bold action is needed. We owe it to those that are already confronted with the realities of climate change on the ground and to the generation that comes after us.”

The BBNJ Treaty needs to provide a strong basis for the protection of biodiversity in the high seas. “The Treaty must provide for mandatory and robust Environmental Impact Assessments for all activities that have an impact on areas beyond national jurisdiction, irrespective of the origins of the activity. Unfortunately, the latter is absent from the Declaration”, comments Johannes Mueller, BBNJ Lead at OceanCare.

“Some conservation actions are simple and would reduce our ecological footprint immediately, such as implementing reduced speed for global shipping. Such a move would reduce GHG and underwater noise emissions, as well as air pollutants. But concrete actions like this are totally absent from the declaration,” says Carlos Bravo, ocean policy expert at OceanCare.

More ambition is needed

The HAC Declaration does not go far enough. As countries prepare and ultimately engage in negotiations in the context of the fourth IGC next month, we hope that countries will reach beyond the commitments and objectives laid out in the High Ambition Coalition Declaration. The world is already confronted with the impacts of climate change and the environmental emergency, and the protection of our Ocean is critical in fending off the worst. Calls for meaningful action in tackling climate change have never been louder and the adoption of an ambitious BBNJ Treaty, one that ventures more than outlined in the HAC Declaration, is long overdue.

Additional information

The Ocean is our blue lung
The Ocean is the world’s blue lung and produces over half of the world’s oxygen, while at the same time absorbing significant amounts of carbon dioxide. For billions of people across the globe, the Ocean is the most important lifeline, providing essential ecosystem services (e.g., food sources) and vital income streams for both current and future generations. The Ocean’s ability to do so has however come under threat, among others, by a wide-range of human activities and by visible and invisible transboundary pollutants, including chemicals, plastic, underwater noise…The development and implementation of a comprehensive and efficient instrument for a collective governance of marine areas beyond national jurisdictions is therefore a crucial and urgent need.

OceanCare highlights underwater noise pollution as an example being one of the most pertinent forms of transboundary pollution which requires a global approach to ocean conservation. Ocean noise, generated by both continuous sources (e.g. commercial shipping) and impulsive sources (e.g. hydrocarbon exploration), is a significant threat to marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). The high seas do not belong to any single country, and it is hence critical for countries to tackle the threats facing the high seas collectively.

Relationship of the BBNJ Treaty to existing frameworks
A further critical question that relates to the new BBNJ Treaty is its relationship to existing bodies and frameworks, with understandable insistence that existing bodies are not undermined. Nevertheless, to overcome the status quo and to enable appropriate conservation measures for ABNJ, the BBNJ Treaty must have its own competences for marine biodiversity in ABNJ. Parties to the Treaty – through the Conference of the Parties (CoP) for example – must be granted the necessary mandate to address gaps in existing regimes. The HAC Declaration, with its explicit reiteration that its signatories will work towards a BBNJ Treaty that establishes “effective coordination and cooperation mechanisms with relevant international fora, without undermining their mandates“, is introducing ambiguous and unfamiliar language to an already complex negotiation process. And it leaves worrying ambiguities as to what the new BBNJ Treaty will be able to do to protect marine biodiversity in the high seas. The BBNJ Treaty must be able to improve the work of existing frameworks, of course without undermining them.