Tweeting Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (#BBNJ): the story of a hashtag

By Arne Langlet, Paul Dunshirn & Glen Wright

#BBNJ – Twitter Network

Twitter has become a central platform for political [1] and scientific communication [2], offering a unique data source for researching digital communication and discussions between diplomats, stakeholders and scientists. During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital communication may have been particularly important for international negotiation processes such as the recently concluded negotiations for a treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) [3, 4, 5].

Here we introduce a dataset of tweets related to BBNJ discussions, which we collected from the first of January 2018 to March, 9th, 2023. The resulting dataset contains 72727 tweets from 26137 unique users. We included all tweets that mentioned the hashtag #BBNJ. Below we present a preliminary analysis of the data, focusing on themes such as the intensity of online engagement with BBNJ-related discussions over time, network community structures, and content of tweet texts. We consider these themes as pathways for further research.

We want to invite anyone with an interest in using the data to get in touch with us to discuss possibilities for further engagement.

How did the BBNJ discussion on Twitter evolve?

Our data shows that in early 2018, #BBNJ was already used in an average of around 12 tweets per day. The use of #BBNJ sparked for the first time during the first Intergovernmental Conference (IGC1) in September 2018. Particularly during the first three days of the IGC1 (4-6 September 2018), we can see high activity, peaking at 757 tweets in just one day. A total of ​​13465 BBNJ-tweets were posted during IGC1, averaging around 250 per day. The discussion subsequently went quiet, ahead of the next peak during the IGC2. By then, the hashtag was well established. During the intersessional period between IGCs2 and 3, more tweets were published than in the previous intersessional period.

Tweeting continued during the intersessional period between IGCs3 and 4, which stretched to 30 months owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This period saw around 17 daily BBNJ-tweets. This continued engagement may indicate that the online dialogues (‘High Seas Dialogues’ and ‘BBNJ Intersessional Work’)  helped to maintain some momentum and visibility during the COVID-19 pandemic [3, 4, 5].

The fourth IGC was originally planned to be the final round of negotiations, and the flurry of BBNJ-tweets on the opening day was relatively high. Nonetheless, this IGC ultimately garnered fewer Tweets in comparison to the previous rounds. Tweets on BBNJ dropped markedly after IGC4 – at around 11 per day, – this period was the quietest since we started sampling in 2018. Usage of #BBNJ once again picked up during the UN Ocean Conference, with civil society and ambitious States using the occasion to call for the finalisation of the BBNJ treaty.

The #BBNJ hashtag exploded during IGC 5 and 5.2, when the hashtag was used in more than 1000 tweets. This correlated with increased media and public attention on the negotiations. The days with the most tweets were March 5th, 6th and 7th 2023 with 5325, 3913 and 2056 Tweets respectively. We were unable to plot these dates on the following graph as they were outliers, and thus, outside of the limits of the visualization.

This analysis reveals a couple of trends. Firstly, BBNJ-related Twitter activity primarily occurs during the in-person negotiation sessions and strongly increased when the negotiations were getting closer to the finish line. After usage of #BBNJ was cemented during IGCs 1 and 2, the hashtag began to occur more often in other ocean events (such as the aforementioned UN Ocean Conference, which was not BBNJ specific). The days after BBNJ was concluded showed the strongest Twitter activity as it became part of the general media coverage.

How did the BBNJ network develop?

From the #BBNJ tweets emerged a social network, which we can visualise by analysing the interactions between users (i.e. retweets and mentions). We found that 13739 users interacted with at least one other user, creating 31842 connections. The following video shows how the BBNJ network has grown since the beginning of 2018.

Video editing: Alexander Medgett

Pathways for further research

Community Analysis

The network is quite closely connected in one large component, and we only see a few  entirely disconnected user groups. A modularity-based community detection algorithm nonetheless identifies different communities within the main component (distinguished by colour in the video). Looking at network evolution over time reveals that certain core communities formed around IGC1, but that subsequent communities joined the discussions at later stages. Particularly, the purple and black communities formed around a small number of highly influential users that attracted a high number of otherwise disconnected users.

Network properties of #BBNJ discussions

Apart from analysing community structures, the relational nature of our data allows the use of established indicators from social network analysis, such as “centralization”. Centralization refers to the distribution of links between nodes [7]. An increase in centralization means that a small number of users are highly connected compared to the majority of people in the network. Table 1 shows that the centralization of the BBNJ network grew steadily after IGC1, indicating that the network grew closer together and a few users became very well connected. During the IGCs (in red), many new users joined the network and the centralization decreased. This indicates that the distribution of connections became more equal, i.e. the gap between hyper- and weakly-connected users shrank and new users joined the BBNJ community. After IGC3, the dynamics of the network did not significantly change and the network grew ever closer around a few highly central nodes for a long time. However, with IGCs 5 and 5.2, the centralization suddenly decreased strongly as many new nodes joined the network by tweeting about #BBNJ and tagging or retweeting other users.

Period Centralization
Pre IGCs 0,16
IGC 1 0,11
Intersessional IGC 1-2 0,16
IGC 2 0,21
Intersessional IGC 2-3 0,22
IGC 3 0,20
COVID-19 Intersessional IGC 3-4 0,31
IGC 4 0,32
Intersessional IGC 4 – UN Ocean Conference 0,32
UN Ocean Conference 0,34
Past UN Ocean & pre IGC 5 0,34
IGC 5 0.23
IGC 5.2 0.21

Content analysis: other hashtags used in connection to the BBNJ hashtag

Our dataset also contains the actual #BBNJ tweet texts, allowing for a closer analysis of the content of discussion. For example, we can identify other hashtags that were used jointly with #BBNJ. #highseas co-occurs most frequently, reflecting the use of that term as a more readily intelligible alternative and recent discussion about the possibility of renaming the BBNJ Treaty to the commonly used “High Seas Treaty”.

# Freq
highseas 7230
ocean 3134
highseastreaty 2059
biodiversity 1914
igc5 1754
oneoceanoneplanet 1130
stronghighseas 1045
abnj 1044
igc4 872
sdg14 691
unclos 649
oceans 580
mpas 511
igc2 462
deepsea 417
protecttheoceans 398
igc3 394
oneoceansummit 381
30×30 300

Contact us for collaboration:

We are excited to announce that our comprehensive Twitter dataset on the #BBNJ (Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction) negotiations is available now. The dataset encompasses more than 72.000 tweets and can offer valuable insights into the global discourse surrounding conservation of marine biodiversity and sustainable use of marine resources. We invite fellow researchers, including early-career researchers and master students to utilize this rich dataset for their scholarly investigations, enabling a deeper understanding of public opinions, key themes, networks and emerging trends during the BBNJ negotiations.

Should you wish to access this dataset and collaborate on groundbreaking research, please do not hesitate to contact us:


[1] Jungherr, A. (2014). Twitter in politics: a comprehensive literature review. Available at SSRN 2865150.; Jörgens, H., Kolleck, N., & Saerbeck, B. (2016). Exploring the hidden influence of international treaty secretariats: using social network analysis to analyse the Twitter debate on the ‘Lima Work Programme on Gender’. Journal of European Public Policy, 23(7), 979-998.; Pearce, W., Holmberg, K., Hellsten, I., & Nerlich, B. (2014). Climate Change on Twitter: Topics, Communities and Conversations about the 2013 IPCC Working Group 1 Report. PLOS ONE, 9.

[2] Boteler, B. (2016). Scientists and Twitter: How does this Group of Fact Finding Professionals use Twitter? Journal of Visual and Media Anthropology, 1(2), 5-18.; López-Goñi, I., & Sánchez-Angulo, M. (2018). Social networks as a tool for science communication and public engagement: focus on Twitter. FEMS Microbiology letters, 365(2), fnx246.; Su, L. Y.-F., Scheufele, D. A., Bell, L., Brossard, D., & Xenos, M. A. (2017). sci. Science Communication, 39(5), 569-597.

[3] Vadrot, A. B. M., Langlet, A., Tessnow-von Wysocki, I., Tolochko, P., Brogat, E., & Ruiz-Rodríguez, S. C. (2021). Marine Biodiversity Negotiations During COVID-19: A New Role for Digital Diplomacy? Global Environmental Politics, 21(3), 169-186.

[4] Vadrot, A. B. M., & Ruiz Rodríguez, S. C. (2022). Digital Multilateralism in Practice: Extending Critical Policy Ethnography to Digital Negotiation Sites. International Studies Quarterly 66(3). Article sqac051,

[5] Langlet, A., Wanneau, K., Dunshirn, P., Ruiz Rodríguez, S. C., Tessnow-von Wysocki, I. & Vadrot, A.B.M. (2022). A matter of time: the impacts of Covid-19 on marine biodiversity negotiations. Négociations, 37, 39-65.

[7] Borgatti, Stephen P. (2005). “Centrality and Network Flow”. Social Networks. 27: 55–71.

A laboratory ethnographer in the deep-sea lab BEEP of IFREMER

Since 2018, the MARIPOLDATA research team has followed the BBNJ negotiations and provided extensive insights of the diplomatic practices, science-policy interactions and conflicts shaping the development of a new high seas biodiversity treaty (Tessnow-von Wysocki & Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot et al. 2022). In parallel, we studied the emerging scientific field of marine biodiversity to understand the state of what scientists knew and delve into the global inequalities of the scientific field, which were reappearing at the negotiation sites (Tolochko & Vadrot 2021a, 2021b). To close the gap between the scientific field and the negotiations though, MARIPOLDATA has taken a closer look at the national level to study marine biodiversity monitoring policies and practices from the perspective of deep-sea laboratories. With the aim to compare these perspectives, the laboratory life of laboratories adds a new key site to understand the structure of the politics of marine biodiversity research entangled between science and policy.

This MARIPOLDATA blog series shares insights from three laboratory ethnographies undertaken between October and December 2022 by three researchers of the ERC MARIPOLDATA team. These ethnographies will take our readers to the United States at Scripps Oceanography[1] at the University of California San Diego, France at the IFREMER[2] of Brest and Brazil at the Oceanographic Institute[3] of São Paulo. Our intention in sharing three singular experiences of laboratory ethnography is to provide a first outlook of how national knowledge infrastructures produce marine biodiversity knowledge. 

A dive into the French ocean institutions to explore the “last frontier of the planet”

The French laboratory ethnography was conducted at the Biology and Deep-sea Ecosystems[1] (BEEP) unit, the deep-sea laboratory of IFREMER[2] (French research institute for exploitation of the sea). Overlooking the beautiful bay of Brest, the lab premises also plunged me into the headquarters of IFREMER, a campus within the Technopôle Brest Iroise located side-by-side with the European Institute for Marine Studies (IUEM) of the University of Western Brittany (UBO). The well-established IFREMER is a pioneer of ocean science and was created in 1984 from the merger of the worlds of marine fisheries and ocean exploration. Under the joint authority of the French Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, the French Ministry for the Ecological and Solidary Transition, and the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food, its mission is to protect and restore the ocean, sustainably use marine resources and create and share ocean data. Engaging into these French ocean institutions, I was embarking on an ethnographic journey located in what felt to be a central site from where marine biodiversity data originated.

View from the BEEP coffee room over the bay of Brest (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)

Because IFREMER also manages an extensive infrastructure with the French Oceanographic Fleet, participates to the management of the national campaigns at sea and dedicates a considerable effort to ground-breaking technology, this dive was not only into the French ocean institutions, it rather felt to be the ideal playground for these scientists to explore the last frontier of the planet. From October 3rd to October 21st, I spent three weeks in Brest to embark on a laboratory ethnography. I attended an international scientific workshop for a week organized by BEEP and then stayed two weeks at BEEP to study how the laboratory staff thought, collected and managed marine biodiversity data using these technologies.


From the stories of marine images at the MIW to the laboratory life at BEEP

During the first week, I attended the 4th Marine Imaging Workshop[3] organized by BEEP at the Océanopolis, Brest’s aquarium. This international workshop conveyed the ocean imaging community to push the boundaries of marine imaging, be it to advance (underwater) image acquisition or showcase new digital automatised imaging workflow to observe marine life. I encountered the excitement of reaching the last frontier while listening to the guest stars, marine biologist Dr. Eddie Widder[4], a pioneer in bioluminescence who discovered the giant squid and Oxford Professor of Astrophysics Chris Lintott who shares a similar vertigo of infinite space in exploring the galaxies and invented a citizen science digital platform – the Zooniverse[5] – that lets anyone with a computer classify galaxies or keep track of endangered species. The immersion into this imaging world exemplified the new approaches and new tools for investigating deep-sea ecosystems and was a premise for what awaited me in BEEP lab.

The story of deep-sea bioluminescence by Eddie Widder captured during the 4th MIW (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)

Over this week, I met several members of BEEP who presented the results of their last research[6], or were simply driven by curiosity to see what their colleagues from other IFREMER labs, or from other institutions represented, such as Ocean Networks Canada[7], Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution[8], Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel[9] (GEOMAR), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute[10], did. There were many reasons to be curious to discover this underwater imaging community. One that standed out as reinforcing ties between participants was innovating to see more into the invisible deep-sea. The organizers of the workshop held a photo contest and the winner was indeed a deep-sea creature photo. During this first week immersion, I collected stories about underwater marine images, technical prowess with the upcoming promises of artificial intelligence and limitations of monitoring practices.

Winner of the Marine Imaging Workshop photo contest (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)

Sharing the imaging workshop experience with BEEP staff and being there among them opened up my fieldwork at IFREMER before diving into the day-to-day laboratory life. The next two weeks, I was immersed in the daily activities of BEEP’s technicians, researchers, engineers, and attended their meetings, coffee breaks, visited their instrument and laboratory rooms and participated in their research activities.

The lab ethnographer immersions (photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)

Contrary to the image of immersing oneself into water, the lab ethnography is not a single immersion into a social world where you then swim, so to say, to explore the environment. The immersion repeats itself each day, and yet creates unprecedented configurations to observe the laboratory life and access to singular individual and collective routines. Despite the repetitive interaction with the same 30 individuals over the two weeks, I didn’t perceive the ethnographic immersion to be a single dive into one lab, but multiple dives to open the black box of BEEP and study the relations inside and outside the lab. Each dive created specific conditions of the immersion, some days wandering on my own in the hallways of the building to study the spatial biography of BEEP and at days trying on the IFREMER overalls suit to prepare myself to go to Roscoff, an emblematic ecosystem area in Brittany where is located an historical marine station dedicated to research and monitoring[11].

After the immersion into the lab, the translation task

I explained above that the immersion into the laboratory life was a detailed and in-depth observation of the laboratory interactions. Yet, our task didn’t stop at the description of interactions, because to understand for MARIPOLDATA is the laboratory perspective over the deep-sea, we needed to observe their research practices and put a meaning over their projects, instruments, triage and storage of samples and organisms studied. After the immersion into the lab comes the translation task to make sense of the expertise of BEEP over nematode, cold-water coral, foraminifera and other marine species for the novice. Our task was to translate our observations of the laboratory practices into a perspective to see into oceans the deep-sea like BEEP. For instance, what meaning do we put on this video of cold-water corals? It was a dive of the RUV (Robot Underwater Vehicle) Victor 6000 operated by IFREMER during the 2022 cruise ChEReef[12] in the bay of Biscay to collect data for the project ARDECO[13] coordinated by BEEP to improve the conservation of cold-water corals. On my last day in Brest, I visited the samples brought back and stored at the Océanopolis[14] aquarium for both research and educational purposes. The translation task puts a meaning over the expertise that each laboratory provides and the services they offer to society.

Research practices of BEEP to study deep-sea ecosystems: deep coral reef in the Bay of Biscay ©ChEReef – Ifremer (2022)

During my stay, I discovered the deep-sea expertise of IFREMER in practice. The laboratory BEEP contributes to the department of deep-sea physical resources and ecosystems of IFREMER with a multidisciplinary study of the biology and ecology of deep-sea ecosystems. They conduct in situ exploring and sampling of the biodiversity of these ecosystems, ex situ studies of the interactions in the deep sea and focus on molecular mechanisms to study the responses and adaptation of organisms. For two weeks, my daily vocabulary changed radically to include nematodes, cold seeps, deep-sea canyons, hydrothermal vents, polymetallic nodules, deep-sea corals, foraminifera, new organisms I had never heard about. Past the feeling of amazement, I discovered what they were doing to study those organisms and the variation of practices to produce knowledge of the deep-sea. For instance, I followed the Blue Revolution[15] project and observed sampling practices at Roscoff (image 7), storage practices in the Centob lab (image 8), imaging practices to prepare the sample before using the scanning electron microscope (SEM) to photograph tiny organisms (images 9). Observing these research practices informed about the scientific mission of BEEP’s researchers.

Sampling at the Roscoff marine station (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)

Storage of samples at the Centob lab (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)


A polychaete sample captured by the scanning electron microscope (SEM) (Photo credits: Krystel Wanneau)


Back to the land, in Österreich

Over the three weeks in Brest, I embarked in a laboratory ethnography of BEEP to study its practices and I learned through these practices about the perspective of a deep-sea lab. Being entangled between the purpose of

the mandate of IFREMER to provide expertise on marine life to support public policy-making and the scientific mission of researchers to discover and study marine life, the BEEP laboratory is a key site to understand to politics of marine biodiversity data in France.

I thank the ERC MARIPOLDATA project principal investigator Alice Vadrot for the opportunity to conduct a laboratory ethnography and the staff from BEEP who opened the doors of its laboratory life. In particular, I thank Daniela Zeppilli and Pierre-Marie Sarradin without whom this fieldwork wouldn’t have become real.

















Exploring Deep Sea Ecology and Ecosystems at the Oceanographic Institute, University of São Paulo (IOUSP)

Since 2018, the MARIPOLDATA research team has followed the BBNJ negotiations and provided extensive insights of the diplomatic practices, science-policy interactions and conflicts shaping the development of a new high seas biodiversity treaty (Tessnow-von Wysocki & Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot et al. 2022). In parallel, we studied the emerging scientific field of marine biodiversity to understand the state of what scientists knew and delve into the global inequalities of the scientific field, which were reappearing at the negotiation sites (Tolochko & Vadrot 2021a, 2021b). To close the gap between the scientific field and the negotiations though, MARIPOLDATA has taken a closer look at the national level to study marine biodiversity monitoring policies and practices from the perspective of deep-sea laboratories. With the aim to compare these perspectives, the laboratory life of laboratories adds a new key site to understand the structure of the politics of marine biodiversity research entangled between science and policy.

This MARIPOLDATA blog series shares insights from three laboratory ethnographies undertaken between October and December 2022 by three researchers of the ERC MARIPOLDATA team. These ethnographies will take our readers to the United States at Scripps Oceanography[1] at the University of California San Diego, France at the IFREMER[2] of Brest and Brazil at the Oceanographic Institute[3] of São Paulo. Our intention in sharing three singular experiences of laboratory ethnography is to provide a first outlook of how national knowledge infrastructures produce marine biodiversity knowledge. 

The IOUSP in São Paulo

Photo credits: Arne Langlet

The Oceanographic Institute (Instituto Oceanográfico) at the University of São Paulo (USP) is a research and teaching institution focused on marine science. It was founded in 1948 with the goal of promoting the study of oceanography in Brazil and contributing to the development of the country through research and education. The Oceanographic Institute is located in the city of São Paulo. São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the capital of the state of São Paulo. It is located in the southeastern part of the country, and is known for its cultural, economic, and political importance. The city is the major economic and cultural center in Brazil and home to a diverse population and a vibrant culture. The IOUSP about a 1-2 hour drive from the Atlantic Ocean, and is affiliated with the University of São Paulo, one of the top universities in Latin America. It possesses more than 40 labs researching all aspects of oceanography, including biological, physical and chemical oceanography, marine geology, marine chemistry, and marine governance.

Over the years, the Oceanographic Institute has played a significant role in the development of marine science in Brazil, conducting research and providing education to students from a variety of disciplines. It has largely contributed to the understanding southern Atlantic Ocean – a previously understudied region – and its role in the earth’s climate and ecosystems but also partakes in missions to the Antarctic station, fulfilling Brazil’s research presence on the Antarctic continent. The institute possesses numerous research facilities and equipment, including a fleet of research vessels, and is home to a large number of researchers, professors, and students. In addition to its diverse research activities, the Oceanographic Institute has been pivotal for marine sciences in Brazil by offering undergraduate and graduate programs in marine science, as well as continuing education courses and workshops. Hence, it is also the Brazilian hub for the UN Decade of Ocean Science, for which a large mural painting was inaugurated during my research stay.

Professor Paulo Sumida inaugurates the new wall painting to celebrate the UN Decade of Ocean Science (Photo credits: Arne Langlet)

Deep Sea Ecology and Evolution Laboratory (LAMP)

The Deep Sea Ecology and Evolution Laboratory (Laboratório de Ecologia e Evolução de Mar Profundo – LAMP) is mainly focused on the deep-sea biodiversity assessment and on the mapping and description of deep-sea habitats and fauna. Further research interests include ecological and biogeochemical benthic processes in the continental margins of the Atlantic Ocean and Antarctica. The laboratory is led by Professor Paulo Sumida who himself was a master student at the IOUSP in 1994 before pursuing his PhD National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK and becoming a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Craig Smith Lab in the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In November 2022 the laboratory had five ongoing projects that aimed at exploring different aspects of largely unknown ecosystems in the southern Atlantic ocean and the Antarctic. One of them is the DECODE project which seeks to understand the dynamics of deep-water coral ecosystems in the south-west Atlantic. The LAMP team used a combination of an ROV (with camera) Lander (with camera) and a sediment trap for this study. First they explored the area with an ROV and then installed the lander and the sediment trap for continuous monitoring. The sediment trap checked what kind of sediment (and tiny animals in it) was floating around and the lander shot videos in regular intervals to research which fauna visited the coral reef. In this way cold water corals and the potential impacts of oiling activities were monitored.

Providing high quality images of a largely unstudied area

Daniel Couto using the multi-use Leica magnifying glass to take a high-resolution picture of an Ophiuroidea sampled in the Santos Basin (Photo credits: Arne Langlet)

Much of the research at LAMP is aimed at the Santos Basin (Bacia de Santos) which is located in the EEZ of Brazil off the coast of the two large Brazilian cities Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo. Here, the research team is active in describing the coral ecosystems. As this part of the Atlantic Ocean remains largely undescribed, one of the main tasks of the research team is to produce images of the flora and fauna of ecosystems in the depth of 400-800 meters. Indeed, producing high quality imagines of rarely seen species was repeatedly highlighted as a “speciality” of the lab, with Sumida famously spending “up to 10 hours” to take the perfect picture of a new species during a cruise.

Collaborative taxonomy

“It is normal that every researcher discovers a new species in this area,” the doctoral student Bruno Henrique told me when I congratulated him to describing a new species in his PhD thesis. Indeed, also Bachelor student André Calloni described a new brittle start in his bachelor thesis which consists of a catalog of spectacular photographs of brittle stars. When asking about their methodology how to identify new species, I began to learn about the collaborative working method that characterizes this laboratory. I learned that when they discover something unknown, “here everyone speaks to everyone” so that everyone´s taxonomic knowledge is quickly aggregated to discover the species at hand – or if unknown – realize that it is indeed a new species. One could describe their method as “visual collaborative taxonomy” – as researchers identify species collaboratively and based on images.

André Calloni presenting the taxonomy of Ophiuroidea for his Bachelor thesis (Photo credits: Arne Langlet)

The condensed milk statistic & and strong collaboration with oil companies

Unfortunately, researchers in Brazil have faced significant funding cuts in recent years which has led to making them financially dependent on funding from private sources. The decrease of federal public funding for research in Brazil arguably reached its dramatic yet ironic peak in 2021 when a public spending statistic showed that the previous federal government spent more money on condensed milk than on financing research. Because extractive industries in Brazil are required by law to spent 1% of their yearly revenue on scientific or educative purposes, companies such as Petrobras have filled the spending gap in recent years. Petrobras – the company involved in the “Car Wash” scandal – a massive corruption scheme, in which executives and politicians had taken bribes in exchange for awarding contracts – is now a major cooperation partner as they not only provide funding for research projects such as the DECODE project but also provide crucial infrastructure for the researchers such as the necessary vessels to conduct sampling in the deep sea. This cooperation – as always – comes with advantages and disadvantages. One major disadvantage that researchers lamented is the strict data sharing policy that Petrobras requires from its scientifc project partners. This means that Brazilian researchers involved in Petrobras projects are not allowed to share data (particularly not outside of Brazil), which oftentimes prevents them from engaging in international research projects or cooperations.

Overall, I spent two insightful and fascinating weeks at the LAMP and also got to see the research station in Ubatuba.

Instruments at Ubatuba Research base (Photo credits: Arne Langlet)

Good bye IOUSP (Photo credits: Arne Langlet)







“The ship has reached the shore”: why the historic Agreement to protect the High Seas matters and what happens next

By: Glen Wright (IDDRI), Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki & Arne Langlet (MARIPOLDATA)


On Saturday March 4, 2023, the President of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) tasked with elaborating an Agreement to protect global ocean biodiversity declared, “The ship has reached the shore”. After a long and winding road of more than 15 years of discussions, consensus on an Agreement to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of  biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) has finally been reached. What is in the Agreement, what could it do, and what happens next?

Picture credit: IISD

Conservation and compromise

This consensus is a striking success for multilateralism and an historic development of the legal regime for the Ocean that will fill gaps in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty will put in place processes for protecting the marine environment, resolve a longstanding dispute over the common heritage of humankind principle,[1] and strengthen capacity building and technology transfer, thereby enabling all States to take part in the management of this vast global commons.

By imposing a legal obligation to ensure conservation and sustainable use, recognizing the inherent value of biodiversity, and calling for Parties to “act as stewards of the ocean” the Agreement provides a strong basis and renewed impetus for the protection of high seas biodiversity.

The Agreement enables the establishment of area-based management tools (ABMTs) for the conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ, including marine protected areas (MPAs). Parties will submit proposals, which will be assessed by a Scientific and Technical Body (STB). The Conference of the Parties (COP) will then decide whether to adopt the proposal, ideally by consensus but with the possibility of a ¾ majority vote.[2] An opt-out procedure was reluctantly included, allowing a Party to justify a derogation from the majority-approved measure.

The Agreement aims to promote cooperation and coordination, and negotiators had to make sure that it will “not undermine” the diverse range of instruments, frameworks and bodies (IFBs) that have a mandate on BBNJ.[3] The COP will conduct consultations and make recommendations, while Parties to the Agreement must promote conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ when participating in the decision-making processes of other IFBs. Future COP meetings will no doubt have to wrangle with thorny questions regarding the precise mandates of other IFBs and the extent to which proposed conservation and management measures are coherent with existing designations.

The COP may also develop a mechanism for recognizing existing measures adopted in other forums, such as the high-seas MPAs established in the North-East Atlantic by the OSPAR Commission. Parties to a number of Regional Seas Conventions and other bodies have been developing a role in managing BBNJ, so the new Agreement could provide further recognition and support for such efforts.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) provisions of UNCLOS will be strengthened, with the BBNJ Agreement setting out a clear process that requires stakeholder consultation and involvement of the STB. Developing States had argued for an “internationalized” EIA process that would have given Parties, via the COP and other organs of the BBNJ Agreement, much greater oversight and involvement.

These proposals included the possibility of investing the COP with the power to ultimately authorize or disallow a proposed activity, but developed States were unwilling to cede their sovereignty over activities conducted by their vessels on the high seas. The Agreement therefore leaves it to the State conducting the EIA to decide whether an activity may proceed, with the role of other Parties being limited to notification and consultation.

The Agreement also includes the possibility of developing Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA), a proactive and collaborative process to assess scientific knowledge and understand the potential impacts of future developments. These assessments could be conducted when new activities and threats to biodiversity are on the horizon, such as exploration for novel fisheries.

Resolving the marine genetic resources dispute

The Agreement resolves the seemingly intractable disagreement regarding the legal status of marine genetic resources (MGRs), which are being used to develop pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products. States from the global South had insisted that MGRs are part of the common heritage of humankind and that rules should be drawn up to regulate access and share the benefits of exploitation; whereas developed States wanted MGRs to remain largely unregulated with no obligation to share future profits.

The deadlock began to break in the first week, as developed States agreed to make up-front payments to a special fund, in addition to their ordinary budget contributions. Rather than being distributed amongst all Parties–as is the case for seabed minerals–monetary benefits will be used to support implementation of the Agreement, thereby promoting conservation, sustainable use, and capacity building. Disagreement nonetheless remained over further payments once products have been commercialized, as well as on reporting requirements and the inclusion of digital sequence information (DSI).[4]

A compromise was reached whereby the COP must consider further modalities for monetary benefit-sharing. In addition, provisions were included to increase transparency and the sharing of research and development outcomes, including through standardized identifiers for MGRs, regular reporting, and notification procedures.

From consensus to a convention

Although a consensus was reached, there was insufficient time to clean up the text and formally adopt it. The President therefore suspended the conference and a short resumed session will be held to adopt the Agreement following technical editing and translation into all six UN languages.

Once adopted, there is more hard work on the horizon: obtaining the 60 ratifications required for the Agreement to enter into force; assessing the capacities and needs of States; building up the institutional framework; and advancing the scientific knowledge needed to support effective decision-making.

The final Agreement also assigns much work to the first meeting of the COP. In addition to establishing the relevant institutional structures,[5] the COP will have to decide the rate of contributions to the benefit-sharing fund, specify the role of the Global Environment Facility in providing financial support, and develop the relevant consultation and assessment processes for conservation measures and impact assessments.

Setting sail

The effectiveness of the BBNJ Agreement is ultimately in the hands of governments and decision-makers. Civil society, scientists and other stakeholders are set to play a significant role, with efforts already underway to identify the next steps toward implementation and possible candidates for protected areas. The ship may have reached the shore, but another long voyage lies ahead.


[1] The Agreement states that it shall be guided by the common heritage principle and places a particular emphasis on the freedom to conduct marine scientific research, while also recognizing the other high seas freedoms granted by UNCLOS.

[2] This ensures that one party cannot effectively veto adoption, as has been the case in the Antarctic Treaty, where proposals to adopt new MPAs have repeatedly stalled due to the objections of a small number of Parties.

[3] E.g. the International Maritime Organization regulates shipping and the International Seabed Authority regulates mining. There are also many Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) that regulate certain fish stocks, though they have not proven effective in terms of biodiversity protection.

[4] DSI generally refers to digital data related to or derived from sequencing processes of genetic resources. For developing States, it was crucially important to include DSI in the benefit sharing provisions of this agreement because it is widely known that the commercial potential of MGRs lies largely in DSI derived from them. The definition of DSI is contested and developed States rejected attempts to define it under the BBNJ Agreement so as not to prejudge similar discussions under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

[5] Including a scientific body, a capacity building committee, and a compliance committee.

A new Marine Biodiversity Treaty in Sight

Finding a landing zone for BBNJ. Photo: Pixabay

A new Marine Biodiversity Treaty in Sight

Marine Biodiversity Negotiations have resumed in New York and negotiators are left with one more week to finalize the new treaty which will govern conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The MARIPOLDATA Team has been following the proceedings closely. This blog follows the BBNJ Blog Series and provides an overview of the progress of the first week and outstanding issues, which still need to be resolved in the days to come.

The week was characterized by ups and downs in the different sessions that were covering the package elements Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs), Area-based Management Tools (ABMTs), including Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), and Capacity Building and the Transfer of Marine Technology (CBTMT), as well as overarching “Cross-cutting Issues”. The latter includes provisions on general principles and approaches governing the new instrument, the institutional setup regarding the decision-making organ (Conference of the Parties (COP)), the Scientific and Technical Body, the Secretariat, and the Implementation and Compliance Committee. Overall, the first week was characterized by a spirit of compromise by Parties, gradually finding a “landing zone” – namely agreement – on various contentious issues.

Final drafting of the new treaty

Throughout the first week, negotiations were advancing at different paces on different topics, leaving the issues of firstly, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction and secondly, the establishment of ABMT, including MPAs as the most challenging parts. Compared to the last conference session in August, the section on EIAs went surprisingly fast, with much flexibility from State Parties and proposals for compromise. Also regarding CBTMT, the textual drafting proceeded without substantial conflicts. The hope that negotiations are now in the final days before the adoption of the agreement can be derived from the language that States use in engaging with each other’s positions and arguments. States’s statements showed that they are willing to work together constructively and with the necessary flexibility.

Figure 1: Language analysis of constructiveness of States’ statements

Using our notes from State Parties’ interventions in the plenary and informal informal sessions, we ran a latent semantic scaling language model to evaluate how constructive the language of the negotiators’ statements was. The language used by States is an important indicator for how a negotiation is progressing (Georgiadou, Angelopoulos,and Drake 2020). We see that in the first week at the resumed 5th session “IGC”, States used more constructive language than during the same time period at IGC 5. State Parties formulated their statements in a particularly constructive manner at the end of week 1, compared to the previous round of negotiations in August. 

Marine Genetic Resources

The discussions on MGRs started on Monday with two new written proposals from developing and developed State Parties. This promised a constructive and engaged start – a lack of written proposals reflecting the ongoing discussions hampered progress during IGC 5 in August 2022. The proposals made big steps towards compromise as they both converged on an obligation for monetary benefit sharing through an upfront payment. Both sides offered significant concessions from their initial pre-IGC 5 positions to get to this point: developed States moved away from their complete opposition to any sort of monetary benefit sharing and developing States in turn accepted that such monetary contributions are purposed for achieving the objectives of this treaty (conservation and sustainable use). Such a spirit of comprise will be needed to resolve the remaining issues. 

Substantial differences remain on whether upfront payments shall be accompanied by a so-called “enabling clause” or an obligation for payments based on the commercialization of MGR-related products. An enabling clause would mean that obligatory payments on commercialization would not form part of the initial agreement, but that the COP would deal with the matter and possibly develop modalities for such payments. The envisioned enabling clause opens the possibility of commercialization-dependent payments without specifying details at this stage. However, the enabling clause as currently proposed leaves too much uncertainty on whether it will ever be invoked, as it requires consensus from all State parties. 

A similar difference emerged over the long-standing debate on how to treat digital sequence information (DSI). Again, one side offered an enabling clause and the other side requested clear commitments. Both sides had in mind the recent decision by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP on the inclusion of DSI for benefit sharing in their lines of argumentation. Developed countries preferred to leave this issue open, waiting for the “fair, transparent, inclusive, participatory and time-bound process to further develop and operationalize the mechanism” (CBD, COP decision 15/9, Art. 17) whereas the developing states insisted that “the benefits from the use of digital sequence information on genetic resources should be shared fairly and equitably (CBD COP decision 15/9, Art. 2) and wished for this to be clarified under the BBNJ regime as well. The compromise may lie in the level of details, as the regime needs to a) accomplish legal certainty for developing states that benefits from DSI will be included and b) remain flexible to take up developments occurring under the CBD mechanism. 

It was noted that it would help developed States in the ratification process if reasonable and doable obligations on State parties are clearly stated throughout Part II of the agreement. In terms of the notification mechanism, a realistic landing zone may lie in requiring State parties to ensure the use of standardized identifiers and regular aggregated utilization reports from databases. 

States agreed that some sort of access and benefit-sharing body will be established to overview and inform implementation of this part. The initial proposal to have a “mechanism” appears to draw logic from the “mechanism” established under CBD. Suggestions to replace this wording with “advisory committee” were met with the argument that all subsidiary bodies established under the instrument will be advisory to the COP and hence, this needs not to be explicitly stated for this body only (see MARIPOLDATA blog on marine issues and DSI at CBD COP15.2).

Area-based Management Tools, including Marine Protected Areas 

While the discussion on whether to have consensus-based decision-making in the COP for establishing the new ABMTs/MPAs is still on the table, most States prefer a majority-based voting procedure. This would mean that proposed ABMTs/MPAs cannot be vetoed by one Party alone, if the majority of the international community agrees on the necessity to undertake this new measure to conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity. Linked to this discussion is the question of so-called “opt-out”, meaning a State Party objecting to the establishment of the new measure can “opt out” of their obligations to comply with the measures (On the delicate balance between opt-outs and majority voting in other instruments see recent IISD guest article). As explained in previous MARIPOLDATA blogs, this risks having States as Parties to the agreement without actually complying with what is agreed by all or by a majority of the COP, threatening the effectiveness of such measures. Throughout the negotiations, and in the spirit of compromise, there is acknowledgement that this agreement will not fully meet one single State’s interest but rather, that it needs to be a compromise solution that works for all and improves the current situation on the high seas. Under this premise, many States have moved away from their original preference of not having the “opt-out” clause, but rather putting in place a majority vote in the COP and – in very special cases – allow for such exemptions. The following days will be crucial in negotiating the knitty-gritty of the legal text to close loopholes and at the same time allow for universal participation of States to the BBNJ treaty.

The second issue is how the new agreement will account for “other relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional, subregional and sectoral bodies” (IFBs) that are already in place and ABMTs that are already established – or will be established – by those bodies and frameworks. Some Parties interpreted the wording in the draft text  as an introduction of a hierarchy between recognized and unrecognized ABMTs/MPAs by the BBNJ instrument, which would neither be possible nor desired in international ocean governance. The coming days will be busy with finding the right wording to agree on the cooperation and coordination of BBNJ with existing International Frameworks and Bodies (IFBs) with the aim to enable coherent biodiversity governance of ABMTs/MPAs, facilitating well-connected networks of ABMTs/MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction (this covers the water column and the seafloor but is currently governed by different international regimes). In the light of ecological connectivity – the knowledge of ecological, biological, genetic and cultural interconnections – such joint establishment of ABMTs/MPAs among the different governing bodies is crucial for effective conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity (Tessnow-von Wysocki & Vadrot, 2022) (see: MARIPOLDATA blog on marine issues and DSI at CBD COP15.2).

Towards the end of the first week, discussions were again taken up on issues that were believed to have been resolved already in the past conference session, such as definitions of MPAs, and threatened to throw the negotiations back to where they had left off in August.

Environmental Impact Assessments

The part on EIAs advanced comparatively quickly on passages of the text that were unresolved from the last conference session, due to constructive compromise proposals by several regional groups, which took into account concerns of State Parties that were raised during the past years of negotiation.

The discussions seem to evolve into a two-tiered approach for EIAs between a complete unilateral decision-making over activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction and a full COP decision-making. Several layers of such internationalization at different steps of the EIA process still need to be formulated but both sides seem to converge on a possible “landing zone” and middle ground between the contrasting concepts. In this way, the disagreement about an effects vs. location-based approach could be advanced. Some controversial issues, however, still remain. At one point, the facilitator even felt that “we are rowing backwards”. 

Details of a “call-in” mechanism will still need to be finalized in the coming days, ensuring a process to question a screening undertaken by one Party that would allow the activity to be conducted without an EIA. One particularly contentious issue is the inclusion of a set of guidelines or standards to which the EIAs need to be upheld – as in the current discussions it would be the State Party itself who is undertaking an EIA for their own planned activities. Discussions on whether additionally to voluntary guidelines, this new legally binding agreement should also provide minimum universal standards that all States  need to follow  when conducting their EIAs. This is still a highly controversial topic and remains to be discussed until the last days.

Another issue regards the key question when an EIA will need to be undertaken. In this discussion, two different thresholds on the table would trigger an EIA: 1) significant and harmful changes and 2) minor or transitory effects to the marine environment. This issue has been avoided in discussions, as no easy compromise is expected in this regard. The same attitude was observed for the role of the Scientific and Technical Body, which was left to the very end of week one.

Capacity Building and Transfer of Marine Technology

From the beginning of IGC, the CBTMT negotiations proceeded relatively smoothly and in clear view on compromise. In the first session, the two State groups holding different views on the topic called the draft text a “clear” and “well balanced” document that “has realistic landing zones”. It was, for example, encouraging to observe that the differences around “shall ensure” in Art. 44 were largely resolved and the wording of the text accepted. 

Disagreement emerged over the proposed addition of the “term” financial to the list of capabilities that shall be enhanced under Art. 46.1. Whereas developing states referred to the required commitment to financial support for capacity-building, developed states argued that the term financial does not fit in the logic of the paragraph. Related to the developments under the MGRs chapter, these differences can certainly be settled by providing the necessary legal certainty and commitment for developing countries that financial support for capacity building is given. 

Unsettled cross-cutting issues

Under Cross-cutting issues, States discussed which principles and approaches should guide the new instrument in two informal-informals sessions. This section of the agreement has been difficult to discuss and left a few concepts up to debate that will form the basis for the new treaty. Negotiations circled back to previous discussions on precautionary principle/approach or the newly phrased term ‘application of precaution’ with a general agreement that the latter could not be a good compromise and would result in further questions of how to define and apply in practice. Developing States pointed to the large  number of countries of regional groups to convey their arguments for the precautionary principle. Yet, whether to use the precautionary principle or approach remains to be discussed.

Also, the option of including the principle of common heritage of humankind as a guiding principle meets much controversy, similar to previous negotiations. It remains to be seen how this disagreement can be resolved to satisfy both proponents of the 1) principle of the common heritage of humankind (mostly developing states) and 2) freedom of the high seas (mostly developed States). In the spirit of compromise, we wonder if a principle encompassing the benefit for the planet could resolve the opposition of two historical principles and provide the basis for  the mandate of the BBNJ treaty focusing overconservation and sustainable use (see: MARIPOLDATA blog on common heritage of the planet).

Figure 2: State (and state-group) positions on whether to include the common heritage of mankind in Art. 5 on general principles and approaches – visualized to depict the conflict over the common heritage principle (position in squares, States in circles). 

Conflict over Common Heritage of Mankind,

IGC 2 & 3

Source: Vadrot et al., 2021

Conflict over Common Heritage of Mankind, 


Source: Authors

Another important topic under cross-cutting issues is the future relationship of the BBNJ instrument with other bodies. Considering the already existing amount of international organizations and regimes and the resulting complexity of marine governance, there is the real risk that a strict not undermining clause (Art. 4.2.) may result in little transformative possibility. Proposals to reformulate Art 4.2. that focused on the effectiveness of measures of the instruments were rejected. During the first week, States concerned that BBNJ may turn out too weak instrument provided a  new proposal to strengthen the BBNJ instrument. The text now contains two brackets to “respect the competences of” and to promote “mutual support”, which would reflect the bidirectional relationship of the not-undermining issue (See MARIPOLDATA blog on the relationship with other instruments and organizations). The future of these brackets remains to be seen in week 2. 

On another previously contentious  issue – Art. 52  on funding – a road to compromise is visible. The stronger language “shall provide for” (own emphasis) has become acceptable to most States when the qualifier “in accordance with its national policies, priorities, plans and programmes” is added to the end of the sentence. 

A completely new discussion started around the wording “indigenous peoples” which was capitalized (“Indigenous Peoples”) in the most recent draft text. A number of countries expressed their opposition to this change which for them represents more than a mere editorial drafting change. Countries in favor of the capitalization argued that capitalization followed a precedent and current UN practice in drafting official documents. The editorial capitalization was retained in the new draft text of February 25 but a small working group was set up to solve this issue throughout all provisions of this agreement. 

The “fluffy beast” and other institutional arrangements 

A very fluffy Beast. Photo: Pixabay

Discussions evolved around the details of an Implementation and Compliance Committee to ensure the effective operationalization of the treaty obligations. As pointed out during the discussions, such a committee will probably rather be a “fluffy beast”, with a non-adversarial and non-punitive character and no real legal sanction case of non-compliance. Still, it was agreed on the importance of such a committee to assist States in their implementation of treaty obligations and, thus, a key institutional arrangement for meeting the treaty’s objectives. Moreover, no consensus has been found on dispute settlement, keeping the divide between Parties and non-Parties to UNCLOS.

Another important institutional arrangement to meet the treaty’s objectives will be the Scientific and Technical Body (STB) and related questions about how scientific advice will flow into the implementation of the BBNJ treaty. While the provision on the STB in Art. 49 was agreed on fairly quickly, modalities and character of such a body remain to be developed by the COP at a later stage. In the specific parts of the agreement dealing with the future role of the STB, there was no easy compromise on the role of this body. Pending discussions include the role of the STB in consultations on and assessment of proposals for ABMTs/MPAs, some sort of oversight of the STB regarding decisions by Parties that screenings or EIAs will not be necessary, it’s involvement in the “call-in mechanism”, and consequential actions that would need to be required in response to the recommendations of the STB. Moreover, a potential role for the STB in assisting EIA processes of States with capacity constraints and in the conduct of further public consultation is being discussed. A potential role of the STB in reviewing, proposing rectifications to and publishing EIA (draft) reports is considered by Parties. Regarding decision-making on whether a planned activity can be carried out, the STB could play a role in reviewing EIA reports prior to authorization of an activity and review reports on the impacts of authorized activities to make recommendations on whether the activity should continue.

As regards the Conference of the Parties (COP), discussions have not been exhausted on whether the COP will take decisions by consensus or majority vote, and if so, which majority. Moreover, it was agreed that there should be regular meetings, however, how often and where such meetings will take place are still up for negotiation. 

In negotiations on the Secretariat, Parties seem to agree on the need for a separate Secretariat apart from UNDOALOS. Which country may host a separate Secretariat is however still up to debate.

Compromising on the future Treaty

Now it will be crucial to see which topics can be agreed on and included in the legally-binding agreement – and which decisions will be left to the COP to decide in future meetings (which then will not be able to gain mandatory character without amendments to the agreement). The final text will need to be ready mid-week in order for the legal drafting committee to give the final touch and have it translated into all official UN languages in time for adoption before negotiators leave to return to their home countries. Reasons to hope for a successful conclusion of the agreement exist: The good work of the secretariat in providing a new comprehensive draft text is a major step. As promised by the president during the plenary on Friday morning, a new text was released “Saturday during daylight” for negotiators to continue bilateral meetings over the weekend.



Georgiadou, Elena, Spyros Angelopoulos, and Helen Drake. 2020. “Big Data Analytics and International Negotiations: Sentiment Analysis of Brexit Negotiating Outcomes.” International Journal of Information Management 51: 102048.

Tessnow-von Wysocki, Ina., & Vadrot, Alice B. M. 2022. “Governing a Divided Ocean: The Transformative Power of Ecological Connectivity in the BBNJ negotiations”. Politics and governance, 10, 28. doi:10.17645/pag.v10i3.5428 

Vadrot, Alice B.M. Langlet, Arne. Tessnow-von Wysocki, Ina. 2022. “Who owns marine biodiversity? Contesting the world order through the `common heritage of humankind´ principle”. Environmental Politics 31(2): 226-250

Watanabe, Kohei. 2021. “Latent Semantic Scaling: A Semisupervised Text Analysis Technique for New Domains and Languages.” Communication Methods and Measures 15 (2): 81–102.

Watanabe, Kohei. 2023. “Introduction to LSX, the Package for Latent Semantic Scaling.”


Life in the Ocean – a common heritage of the planet: Do we have a responsibility in the High Seas?

This contribution is part of a MARIPOLDATA blog series on current developments and discussions about marine biodiversity negotiations – more specifically, 1) the negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument 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 (BBNJ) and 2) the second part of 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15.2) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This blog post reflects on the ongoing BBNJ negotiations and the missing aspect of acknowledging the intrinsic value of nature – apart from economic considerations. It dives into the debate on our responsibility to protect the ocean for current, future generations and the planet as a whole and challenges policy-makers in the BBNJ negotiations to consider this aspect as underlying principle of the BBNJ agreement.


Source: Pixabay

Why of common concern…?

The MARIPOLDATA Team has explored the disagreements of States over the years regarding the Principle of “Common Heritage of Humankind” in international law (Vadrot, Langlet, & Tessnow-von Wysocki, 2021). Our research shows how the political discussions surrounding the principle play out in the ongoing negotiations for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. It highlights and explains the different rationales of States to support or reject the inclusion of the idea to ensure that living resources are a “common heritage of humankind”, implying the need for its conservation and sustainable use for the benefit of all humankind.

To put the principle into context, it helps to revisit where it is mentioned in the preamble of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea:

“Desiring by this Convention to develop the principles embodied in resolution 2749 (XXV) of 17 December 1970 in which the General Assembly of the United Nations solemnly declared inter alia that the area of the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, as well as its resources, are the common heritage of mankind, the exploration and exploitation of which shall be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole, irrespective of the geographical location of States “ (UNCLOS, Preamble)

The principle of common heritage of humankind has been used by developing countries to contest the current inequality gap between countries of the Global North and Global South; and it offers food for thought on how benefits can be fairly and equitably shared among humankind, rather than concentrating wealth in a handful of States. Yet, the principle has been strongly instrumentalised to serve solely financial considerations, rather than conservation aspects. The original objective of introducing the principle into international law was to “ensure that ocean’s plenitude continued to sustain present and future generations and that its uses contributed to peace, security, and the equitable development of peoples” (Taylor, 2019).

Nowadays, it is almost solely linked to the economic benefits of nature for humans and within the BBNJ negotiations almost exclusively mentioned in the section on marine genetic resources and access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits deriving from them. A human-centric view on nature has been criticized previously in debates on the commonly-used term “ecosystem services” (Schröter et al., 2014) and alternative framings now include “nature’s contributions to people” within the context of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Borie & Hulme, 2015). Taking the conservation angle to the common heritage principle would imply to only explore and exploit to an extent where it benefits all humankind – which in some cases would mean limited or no exploration and exploitation if greater benefit is achieved through preserving the marine environment.

While it is of course desirable to strive for the benefit of humankind, we should even go beyond humankind – and strive for the benefit of the planet as a whole. Scholars have already pointed to the need to phrase the concept more broadly to account for the intrinsic value of nature and the connection between humans and ecological systems, such as ‘common heritage of all life’ (Taylor, 2019). The human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is already recognized and addresses conservation and sustainable use for the benefit of humankind (UNGA, 2022). In BBNJ, some wording would now be needed that includes the consideration of humankind and extend it to rights of nature.

In the light of debates on “the rights of nature” (Harden-Davies et al., 2020), there is still room at the global level to engage with these ideas.

Is it all about the money..?

With the beginnings of the negotiations, research already pointed early to the lack of funding for conservation in ABNJ and suggested channelling monetary benefits arising from MGRs in ABNJ into a biodiversity fund (Tvedt & Jørem, 2013). Such a fund was envisaged to support conservation projects by state- and non-state actors on the one hand and foster “scientific research projects relating to the loss of marine biodiversity or understanding marine life and diversity” on the other hand (Tvedt & Jørem, 2013, p. 155, own emphasis). The current draft text includes a Financial mechanism (BBNJ draft, Art.52), which seeks to cover costs for the implementation of the agreement (conservation and sustainable use).

The objective of the BBNJ treaty is the “conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction”. Yet, with efforts to balance conservation and sustainable use, to date, the actual balance of the two pillars in our ocean is merely mentioned. To equally balance conservation and sustainable use actions on the high seas, one needs to evaluate the current status of marine biodiversity.

Continuing with “business as usual” would include much sustainable (and quite some unsustainable) use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Yet, the conservation aspect of marine biodiversity in ABNJ is currently shockingly low (Karan & Clark, 2020). There is definitely no equal balance between conservation and sustainable use in our ocean currently, with (sustainable) use activities overshadowing efforts for conservation. The BBNJ agreement now offers an opportunity to reverse this trend and introduce ocean conservation efforts.

Who decides…?

Because the ocean is a global common and does not fall under the jurisdiction of any state, it needs to be governed jointly by all. Ocean protection can therefore be regarded as everyone’s concern and responsibility. It would thus also imply that everyone has a voice when it comes to governing, protecting and using the global commons and that no unilateral decisions over these spaces are made. Ideas that go further than a participatory approach include voices for non-humans, such as the consideration of animal rights and the environment, to ensure that natural resources – especially outside of national boundaries – are not solely governed for the benefit of the human population. Critics might say, we should not take responsibility for the ocean, we should not seek to govern it. Yet, we can govern our own actions within the ocean to reverse and prevent further damage.

Considering the common heritage (of the planet) principle for the BBNJ agreement would require to regard biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction as “belonging to all but owned by none” (Taylor, 2019). The principle subjects sovereign authority by individual nation states to limitations – or ecological responsibilities – to serve the interests and well-being of all (Taylor, 2019). Thus, when it comes to decisions over areas beyond national jurisdiction, there is a need for governance in a transparent and internationalized manner, including – besides states – also all other actors in the process.

Source: Pixabay

Moving towards living in harmony with the ocean

The Global Biodiversity framework is a recently adopted document under the Convention on Biological Diversity and recognises the need for living in harmony with nature, and for taking urgent actions towards “transformative change” (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2022; Díaz et al., 2020). It refers to an eco-centric way of seeing and regulating biodiversity – not for the benefit of humans alone, but rather acknowledging the interlinkage between humans and the ecological system as the basis for social, economic and financial models. The vision of the new Global Biodiversity Framework is ambitious: living in harmony with nature by 2050. It even includes references to eco-centric approaches and valuing nature for what it is, not for its economic benefit to humans. Why is it then that almost simultaneously to the adoption of this ambitious biodiversity framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the same States seem to prioritize economic prosperity and territory over protecting nature in international negotiations for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction? How is the GBF going to be implemented if not through legally-binding regulations on global, national and local levels? Would an emerging legally-binding marine biodiversity agreement not be the perfect opportunity to introduce such change and translate it into national laws?

The upcoming final round of negotiations provides the opportunity to draft a new legally-binding agreement for people and the planet as a whole, thus, the intrinsic value of nature going beyond economic considerations is crucial to be incorporated into the legal text. While at the time of the UNCLOS negotiations little was known about the threats to marine ecosystems and species, today it is clear that human activities can and are already affecting marine biodiversity.

Particularly towards the last days of negotiation, policy-makers need to call to mind that this agreement should not solely be about meeting individual States’ interests, but rather it is a global common treaty that needs to be representative of the planet as a whole. State delegates, thus, are now spokespersons not only for their country, ministry, political party, and constituency – but additionally for the ones that have no voice: future generations and ocean life. For the individual negotiator, this is a huge opportunity to finalise an agreement for the world. But at the same time, it bears a tremendous responsibility – the responsibility to protect this planet for current and future life on Earth.

Source: Pixabay


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Harden-Davies, H., Humphries, F., Maloney, M., Wright, G., Gjerde, K. M., & Vierros, M. (2020). Rights of Nature: Perspectives for Global Ocean Stewardship. Marine Policy, 104059. doi:

Karan, L., & Clark, N. (2020). A Path to Creating the First Generation of High Seas Protected Areas:  Science-based method highlights 10 sites that would help safeguard biodiversity beyond national waters. Retrieved from

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Tvedt, M. W., & Jørem, A. E. (2013). Bioprospecting in the High Seas: Regulatory Options for Benefit Sharing. The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 16(3-4), 150-167. doi:10.1002/jwip.12010

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Navigating the marine biodiversity regime complex – How will the BBNJ instrument interact with other organizations?

By Arne Langlet and Simon Fellinger

This contribution is part of a MARIPOLDATA blog series on current developments and discussions about marine biodiversity negotiations – more specifically, 1) the negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument 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 (BBNJ) and 2) the second part of 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15.2) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)The recently published article Not ‘undermining’ who? Unpacking the emerging BBNJ regime complex informs the BBNJ negotiations by untangling the regime complex of existing international organizations (IOs) that operate in the field of marine biodiversity. We show that up to 52 IOs are perceived as potentially relevant for BBNJ which means that negotiators should carefully formulate the “not undermining” Article 4 of the draft text to strengthen cooperation among IOs in the implementation of the BBNJ agreement. The dataset underlying this publication has recently been made publicly available. 

Will BBNJ become a pilot boat for sustainable ocean governance? (Pilot boat guiding a sailboat, Photo by Philipp Straub)

What does article 4 of the current BBNJ treaty draft refer to?

The BBNJ Agreement is intended to complement and cooperate with other marine biodiversity-related agreements administered by several IOs such as treaty secretariats, intergovernmental organizations, and regional bodies. Art 4.2 of the draft text mandates that the ‘Agreement shall be interpreted and applied in a manner that does not undermine relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional, subregional and sectoral bodies’. The article Not ‘undermining’ who? Unpacking the emerging BBNJ regime complex contributed to informing the negotiations by providing a list of IOs that have been associated to the BBNJ negotiations, addressing the “who” – or, more specifically,  which IOs negotiators refer to when talking about “not undermining”. The observed multitude of IOs and their complex involvement in the negotiations have led scholars and delegates to describe the situation as a “regime complex”.

What are the effects of regime complexity?

Regime complexity, defined as ambiguity in international standards, inconsistent rules and obligations, and opportunities for “forum shopping,” poses a significant threat to the effectiveness of international cooperation. This is due to actors seeking to take advantage of legal incoherence and competition among international organizations (IOs) to select a negotiation forum that best serves their interests (Alter & Meunier, 2009; Gehring & Faude, 2013). Forum shopping can occur when IOs compete in response to regime complexity and can ultimately undermine the effectiveness of all involved regimes. (Henning & Pratt, 2020, p. 1).

While regime complexity has been shown to pose challenges to international cooperation, research has also revealed positive effects. Increased availability of resources (Kelley, 2009), expertise (Lesage and Van de Graaf, 2013), local knowledge (Yadav & Gjerde, 2020), improved flow of information (Pretty & Ward, 2001), diffusion of practices and management structures (Rosenkopf & Abrahamson, 1999), and increased resilience in times of crisis (Janssen et al., 2006) have been identified as potential benefits. However, these positive effects are dependent on the ability of IOs to engage in cooperation and support each other (Dai, 2002; Perez, Cohen & Schreiber 2019; Sofronova, Holley & Nagarajan, 2014). To maximize the positive effects of regime complexity, it is essential to foster cooperative relationships among IOs, rather than competitive ones. But it remains unclear what factors determine the character of cooperative relationships.

How to facilitate cooperative relationships?

The literature suggests that cooperation between IOs is facilitated by shared goals (Downie, 2021; Carlisle & Gruby, 2019) and a clear hierarchy (Henning & Pratt, 2020). In the case of the BBNJ agreement, the hierarchy is established by the predominant role of UNCLOS, which serves as a reference point for other regimes, including the ISA and the UNFSA. However, principles of environmental governance and conservation remained underdeveloped in UNCLOS, such as the requirements for environmental assessments or the duty to cooperate for the conservation of living resources in the high seas. The BBNJ agreement could specify such principles.

Differentiation, or clarifying differences in scope and tasks, have also been shown to support collaborative relationships and compliance in regime complexes (Henning & Pratt, 2020). In the context of the BBNJ agreement, clear differentiation of scope and tasks with other IOs, such as the FAO or CBD, could provide a basis for institutional cooperation. For example, the description of EBSAs from the CBD could be used to inform MPAs under BBNJ, or the FAO could benefit from clarifying the contribution of BBNJ to achieve the holistic and comprehensive conservation and sustainable use of all marine biodiversity species – including fish – in ABNJ.

Hence, the BBNJ instrument could become an important step to fulfilling UNCLOS’ vision as a ‘constitution of the ocean’ by providing overarching goals under which IOs cooperate with diverse mandates.

The case of RFMOs:

The risk that the current formulation of ‘not-undermining’ may be too wide is particularly present in relation to the exclusion of measures for fish. Observers have warned that if fish is excluded from the scope of BBNJ management in order not to undermine the mandate of FAO or RFMOs, fish may slip ‘through the governance net’, leaving many species that are fished or affected by fishing unregulated and unprotected (Crespo, 2019). Particularly for ABMTs/MPAs it is essential to involve FAO and relevant RFMOs in consultations for effective implementation of protective measures. From the RFMOs perspective, the spatial management provisions in the BBNJ Agreement could serve as a tool for RFMOs to achieve sustainable use objectives. From a BBNJ perspective, it could become a hub to increase engagement between IO secretariats, informed by a robust scientific and technical body. In order to promote cooperation and coordination, the BBNJ text should prioritize coherence and coordination over language on not undermining existing instruments. The International Union on (IUCN) has suggested revising the order of elements in Art 4 to reflect such prioritization.

The case of existing scientific and technical bodies:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) are two further bodies with which BBNJ will interact. The knowledge those bodies aggregate is closely connected to the marine biodiversity regime, as climate change and biodiversity loss are interlinked – on land and in the ocean. Including the expertise of those bodies may have helpful effects for the identification of MPAs, particularly at the beginning of implementation of the treaty, when the BBNJ institutions build their own expertise while many characteristics of the scientific and technical body will likely be defined by the COP in the future.

Further, to strengthen the role of the scientific and technical body that will be established through article 49 of the BBNJ instrument, drawing on existing knowledge practices and lessons learned from IPCC and IPBES should be taken into account (Borie et al., 2021). Both bodies have proven track records for independently aggregating diverse and complex knowledge from a large network of experts, and for communicating it to decision-makers, which will be a key task for the BBNJ scientific and technical body. Yet, this body  needs to be designed for the specific context of marine biodiversity (Beck et al., 2014). Strong institutional links between IPCC, IPBES and the future BBNJ scientific and technical body can help to enhance the knowledge base for decision-making by ensuring exchange and steady flow of information (Pretty & Ward, 2001).


Alter, K. J., & Meunier, S. (2009). The Politics of International Regime Complexity. Perspectives on Politics, 7(1), 13-24. doi:10.1017/s1537592709090033

Beck, S., Borie, M., Chilvers, J., Esguerra, A., Heubach, K., Hulme, M., Lidskog, R., Lövbrand, E., Marquard, E., Miller, C., Nadim, T., Neßhöver, C., Settele, J., Turnhout, E., Vasileiadou, E., & Görg, C. (2014). Towards a Reflexive Turn in the Governance of Global Environmental Expertise. The Cases of the IPCC and the IPBES. GAIA – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 23(2), 80–87.

Borie, M., Mahony, M., Obermeister, N., & Hulme, M. (2021). Knowing like a global expert organization: Comparative insights from the IPCC and IPBES. Global Environmental Change, 68(12), 102261.

Carlisle, K., & Gruby, R. L. (2019). Polycentric systems of governance: A theoretical model for the commons. Policy Studies Journal, 47(4), 927-952.

Crespo, G. O., Dunn, D. C., Gianni, M., Gjerde, K. M., Wright, G., & Halpin, P. N. (2019). High-seas fish biodiversity is slipping through the governance net. Nat Ecol Evol, 3(9), 1273-1276. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0981-4

Dai, X. (2002). Information Systems in Treaty Regimes. World Politics, 54(4), 405-436. doi:10.1353/wp.2002.0013

Downie, C. (2021). Competition, cooperation, and adaptation: The organizational ecology of international organizations in global energy governance. Review of International Studies, 1-21. doi:10.1017/S0260210521000267

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Henning, C. R., & Pratt, T. (2020). Hierarchy and differentiation in international regime complexes: A theoretical framework for comparative research. Unpublished manuscript.

Janssen, M., Bodin, Ö., Anderies, J. M., Elmqvist, T., Ernstson, H., Mcallister, R., R. J. , . . . Ryan, P. (2006). Toward a Network Perspective of the Study of Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems. Ecology and Society, 11(1), 1-20. doi:10.5751/ES-01462-110115

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Langlet, A., & Vadrot, A. B. M. (2023). Not ‘undermining’ who? Unpacking the emerging BBNJ regime complex. Marine Policy, 147, 105372. doi:

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Perez, O., Cohen, R., & Schreiber, N. (2019). Governance through Global Networks and Corporate Signaling. Regulation & Governance, 13(4), 447-469. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3265793

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Yadav, S. S., & Gjerde, K. M. (2020). The ocean, climate change and resilience: Making ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction more resilient to climate change and other anthropogenic activities. Marine Policy, 122, 104184. doi:


Marine Issues and Digital Sequence Information at CBD COP15.2: Lessons and implications for the upcoming BBNJ negotiations?

By Silvia Ruiz Rodríguez and Paul Dunshirn

This contribution is part of a MARIPOLDATA blog series on current developments and discussions about marine biodiversity negotiations – more specifically, 1) the negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument 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 (BBNJ) and 2) the second part of 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15.2) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In this blog post, we elaborate on the discussions and outcomes of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and the CBD decision on digital sequence information (DSI) with a focus on marine issues. Additionally, we point out links with the second part of the 5th Intergovernmental Conference (IGC5.2) of the BBNJ negotiations

Opening plenary of the CBD COP 15.2. (Source: own ethnographic data)

Marine issues in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) aims to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss through the achievement of four goals by 2050 and 23 action-oriented targets by 2030. Such goals and targets contribute to the Agenda for Sustainable Development (CBD COP15.2, dec. 15.4, Annex, para. 26) and pave the way for states to achieve the “shared vision of living in harmony with nature” by 2050 (para. 3).

The GBF was negotiated by state parties to the CBD during the sessions of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (WG2020), which met five times between August 2019 and December 2022 and delivered the GBF draft to the COP15.2. While there are numerous marine issues across different targets of the GBF, we focus on the discussions on targets 1, 2, and 3 at COP15.2 as the scope of application of these targets might be subject to different interpretations.

Spatial planning of activities

Target 1 aims to ensure that states implement management plans for activities carried out on all terrestrial and marine areas to decrease biodiversity loss. During COP 15.2, discussions on this target revolved around the geographical reach and types of ecosystems that the target would address, as well as its feasibility.

Similar to discussions throughout the sessions of the WG2020, states struggled over the application of the target to only areas within national jurisdiction or both areas within and beyond national jurisdiction. On the one hand, arguments for circumscribing target 1 to areas within national jurisdiction relied on a narrow interpretation of the applicability of the CBD to national jurisdiction (CBD art. 4) and its relation to other international instruments (CBD art. 22; Prip, 2022). On the other hand, arguments supporting the applicability of target 1 to areas within national jurisdiction and areas beyond national jurisdiction promoted the coexistence of CBD and UNCLOS on the high seas with regard to biodiversity protection (Prip, 2022).

States had heated debates about whether the target would “retain” “intact ecosystems” or “critical and intact ecosystems.” States of the Global North struggled over the protection of such ecosystems while states of the Global South provided an array of arguments against such references. Firstly, retaining “intact ecosystems” would place a disproportionate burden on states of the Global South, which have a higher extent of wild areas in comparison to states of the Global North. Secondly, most ecosystems have been affected by anthropogenic activities. Thirdly, the meaning of “critical ecosystems” is unclear.

Against this scenario, states of the Global North proposed to replace “intact ecosystems” with “ecosystems that are hard to restore.” This proposal was nevertheless not accepted by their counterparts of the Global South. In the spirit of compromise, states agreed to “bring the loss of (…) ecosystems of high ecological integrity, close to zero” under target 1.

Restoring degraded areas of ecosystems

Target 2 aims to restore 30% of degraded land, inland water and marine areas to improve the state of the ecosystems. Debates focused on the numeric element, the purpose of the target, as well as types of ecosystems and areas to restore.

Similar to discussions at the WG2020, disagreements lay on whether the number should be absolute or relative. State actors supporting an absolute number, such as the European Union (EU), the Russian Federation, Samoa, and Switzerland preferred to protect hectares of areas. The EU, particularly, aimed to refer to a billion hectares of areas. States supporting a relative number, such as Australia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, India, Maldives, and Mexico, among others aimed to protect a percentage of areas. Although absolute numbers are needed for calculating a relative one, states agreed on representing the numeric element as a percentage to keep consistency with target 3.

The purpose of the target was also a topic of debate. The EU proposed that the restoration of areas would achieve an “increase of area of natural ecosystems” while Argentina, Kenya, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom proposed that the restoration of areas would “enhance biodiversity, and ecosystem services, ecological integrity and connectivity.” The first option might imply a gradual geographic expansion of the reach of the target before 2030. In contrast, the second option fails to suggest such a gradual increase. Consensus was reached on the second option with the addition of “ecosystem functions,” giving states flexibility to restore natural ecosystems, as well as altered and managed ones like aquaculture ponds.

Implementation of protected areas

Target 3 aims to guarantee that states conserve 30% of land, inland water and marine areas through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) while recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs). Some of the disagreements focused on the numeric element and the scope of the application.

Similar to discussions throughout the sessions of the WG2020, the numeric element was an object of debate. At COP15.2, differences lay on the specific percentage (30%, 20%, 13%, or even 10%), and whether this percentage would apply to 1) terrestrial and inland water and 2) marine ecosystems together or separately. The higher the percentage, the more efforts states have to undertake to achieve the target. Moreover, applying the percentage to land, inland water and marine areas separately increases these efforts even further. This was particularly challenging for some states of the Global South whose economies depend on the extraction of natural resources for the most part. States could not reach a compromise in the open sessions of COP15.2, resulting in the solution of this issue by state ministers who agreed to protect 30% of 1) land and inland water and 2) marine areas separately. In other words, states would fail to reach the target if they protect 20% of terrestrial and freshwater areas and 10% of marine areas.

The scope of application of target 3 was also an object of debate. At COP15.2, states struggled over the conservation and management 1) “of all land and of ocean” or 2) “of terrestrial and inland water, and of coastal and marine areas.” As the “ocean” contains both national and international waters, reference to the “ocean” might have enabled the implementation of marine protected areas and OECMs in areas within and beyond national jurisdiction. Australia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Israel, Maldives, Samoa, Saint Lucia, and Tonga, among others, supported this reference.

The wording “coastal and marine areas” has been interpreted in the context of the CBD as a phrase that mostly applies to national jurisdiction. It might also imply both national and international waters, providing interpretative flexibility to the text. Brazil, the EU, India, Norway, and the Russian Federation supported the reference to “coastal and marine areas” for consistency with Aichi target 11. Parties decided to refer to “coastal and marine areas” in target 3 despite the unconformity of countries that supported reference to the “ocean.

Decision on DSI and its contribution to the GBF

A core element of the CBD is its system for access and benefit-sharing for genetic resources. The Nagoya protocol has introduced a system that attributes a substantial level of sovereignty to nation states over their genetic resources, requiring users to enter mutually agreed terms with provider countries to ensure the sharing of benefits. Importantly, this framework is generally limited to genetic materials, even though the relationship to DSI has always been a source of contention. As DSI is central to a range of Research and Development (R&D) activities, parties to the CBD strived to find solutions during COP15.2.. This resulted in several decisions on the nature of a future multilateral mechanism, some of which appear of particular importance to the BBNJ discussions.

As it relates to the very question of whether benefits from DSI should be shared, COP15.2 “agrees that the benefits from the use of digital sequence information on genetic resources should be shared fairly and equitably” (CBD COP, dec. 15.9, para. 2). This can be read as a general recognition that the CBD should develop a system beyond benefit-sharing on genetic materials. In preparation for BBNJ IGC-5.2, this has created a discussion about the meaning of the phrase ‘benefits from the use of DSI’. As some suggest (Oldham et al., 2023), this implies that benefits need to be assessed based on evidence of DSI use. In other words, monetary benefits cannot be shared if they are ‘decoupled’ from use, but need to be informed by individual or aggregate use. This interpretation of the decision essentially implies that some form of traceability needs to be implemented in combination with the future benefit-sharing system. The question about the extent to which monetary benefit-sharing on DSI and traceability need to go hand-in-hand will also be of key importance for the BBNJ negotiations, where it would make sense to find solutions compatible with the CBD decisions (Langlet & Dunshirn, 2023; Oldham et al., 2023).

Concerning the question of traceability, COP15.2 “recognizes that tracking and tracing of all digital sequence information on genetic resources is not practical” (CBD COP, dec. 15.9, para. 5). The discussions that have inspired this decision have revolved around the complexity of tracing DSI. Research practices involve comparing hundreds or thousands of DSI (Scholz et al., 2022). Thus, scientific observers to COP 15.2. have argued that a comprehensive track and trace system of all of these uses may cost more than it may contribute to the overall goal of establishing a monetary benefit-sharing system on DSI (Scholz et al., 2022). Additionally, a track and trace system on DSI can never be fully comprehensive, as users may download DSI and analyze or further share it directly outside the established infrastructures (Rohden et al., 2020). However, some commentators emphasize that the decision concerns track and trace of all DSI, implying that it may be practical for some DSI (Oldham et al., 2023).  

COP15.2 also “decides to establish […] a multilateral mechanism for benefit sharing from the use of digital sequence information on genetic resources, including a global fund” (CBD COP, dec. 15.9, para. 16). This decision is a clear break with the bilateral access and benefit-sharing system for genetic resources introduced under the Nagoya protocol. Instead, it introduces a novel multilateral mechanism. The relationship between these novel multilateral and bilateral systems remains unclear, and it is conceivable that hybrid forms will be discussed moving forward. As some observers have argued, a multilateral system is particularly suitable for DSI, as many research practices may use DSI from hundreds of different origins in one search, making it hard to imagine how this should be dealt with in a purely bilateral manner (Scholz et al. 2022).

Overall, the decision on DSI provides guidelines for the further construction of a multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism. As guidelines,  they are not legally binding and it is up to state parties to further sketch out the system they sketched out during COP15.2.

Why should we care about the CBD COP 15.2 when negotiating the BBNJ treaty during the coming weeks? 

BBNJ negotiators should keep in mind discussions and outcomes of the CBD COP15.2 to facilitate synergies and collaboration between both instruments. Targets 1, 2, and 3 of the GBF are particularly relevant for the package element on area-based management tools, including marine protected areas.

Two outstanding, interrelated reasons come to the fore. Firstly, it is necessary to conduct marine spatial planning (GBF target 1) to implement area-based management tools and marine protected areas (GBF target 2), restore degraded marine ecosystems (GBF target 3) and protect the marine environment under the CBD and BBNJ instruments. Secondly, the ecological connectivity of the ocean – through species’ movement and genetics, horizontal and vertical currents, as well as culture – requires coherent management and protection measures across areas within and beyond national jurisdiction for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity (Dunn et al., 2019; Mossop & Schofield, 2021; Mulalap et al., 2020; O’Leary & Roberts, 2018; Popova et al., 2019; Tessnow-von Wysocki and Vadrot, 2022; UNEP‐WCMC, 2018). Agreeing on complementary and mutually supporting measures between the CBD and BBNJ instruments is essential for taking management and conservation actions that ensure species’ persistence and increase ecosystems’ productivity (Berger et al., 2022). This would improve the health of marine ecosystems and protect economic sectors, such as fisheries and tourism.

The CBD COP15.2 decision on DSI is also particularly relevant for the BBNJ negotiations as it is inextricably linked to the package element on marine genetic resources (MGRs). Some negotiating parties to BBNJ have so far opposed including DSI in the treaty text to not forgo CBD decisions. Now that the decisions are on the table, it will be a great opportunity for negotiators to work towards a harmonized multilateral system. Distinguishing DSI from areas beyond national jurisdiction and areas within national jurisdiction on the existing genetic sequence databases is generally tricky and at present not supported by database providers (Langlet & Dunshirn 2023). Establishing functional governance frameworks for MGRs is key to achieving sufficient legal certainty for users and enabling benefit-sharing and capacity-building for the Global South. Enabling a variety of communities to use and benefit from marine biotechnology can go a long way in establishing blue economies that work for both people at the same time as contributing to ecosystem conservation (Blasiak et al. 2023).

Cross-fertilization between the CBD COP15.2 and the BBNJ IGC5.2 is essential for the success of the international community in the efforts toward the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity. It can only help to harmonize international marine legislation, bringing global environmental governance a step forward in its path to coherent and effective protection and management of the world’s oceans.

Silvia Ruiz Rodríguez and Paul Dunshirn are associated researchers of the ERC Project MARIPOLDATA. Paul is a prae-doc at the Research Platform Governance of Digital Practices. Silvia’s on-site participation at COP15.2 and WG2020-5 was possible due to the generous support of MARIPOLDATA, the sowi:docs Fellowship Programme and the advancement scholarship of the University of Vienna.

Understanding Deep-Sea Life through marine scientific research: The case of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Since 2018, the MARIPOLDATA research team has followed the BBNJ negotiations and provided extensive insights of the diplomatic practices, science-policy interactions and conflicts shaping the development of a new high seas biodiversity treaty (Tessnow-von Wysocki & Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot, 2020; Vadrot et al. 2022). In parallel, we studied the emerging scientific field of marine biodiversity to understand the state of what scientists knew and delve into the global inequalities of the scientific field, which were reappearing at the negotiation sites (Tolochko & Vadrot 2021a, 2021b). To close the gap between the scientific field and the negotiations though, MARIPOLDATA has taken a closer look at the national level to study marine biodiversity monitoring policies and practices from the perspective of deep-sea laboratories. With the aim to compare these perspectives, the laboratory life of laboratories adds a new key site to understand the structure of the politics of marine biodiversity research entangled between science and policy.

This MARIPOLDATA blog series shares insights from three laboratory ethnographies undertaken between October and December 2022 by three researchers of the ERC MARIPOLDATA team. These ethnographies will take our readers to the United States at Scripps Oceanography[1] at the University of California San Diego, France at the IFREMER[2] of Brest and Brazil at the Oceanographic Institute[3] of São Paulo. Our intention in sharing three singular experiences of laboratory ethnography is to provide a first outlook of how national knowledge infrastructures produce marine biodiversity knowledge. We begin today with Ina’s stay at Scripps.

Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla (Photo credits: Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki)

Diving into Deep-Sea Research at the Lab

Whenever you are standing at the beach and your eyes scroll over the infinite horizon; whenever you are at the railing of a ship looking out to the blue waves or diving down to explore the shallow waters to the point where your snorkelling or scuba gear will no longer let you descend further… Have you ever wondered what lives thousands of meters below the surface of the ocean?

You probably know of the deep sea – you might have seen deep-sea organisms on pictures, videos, or even on your own research cruises and in the laboratory. Maybe you are involved in the United Nations negotiations on marine biodiversity governance as an observer – or even as a negotiator – to follow and take decisions over the life that exists in international waters, down to thousands of meters below the surface. Maybe you have come across pharmaceutical companies that are using deep-sea organisms for product development, and have engaged in conversations about deep-seabed mining – all of which are highly controversial discussions at the global UN level nowadays.

Yet, the deep sea is still little-understood: Humans have more knowledge of other planets, than they have about the deepest parts of this blue planet called Earth (Levin et al., 2019; Smith, 2019). But we do know that there is life in these dark and cold spaces in several thousands of meters depth!

Deep-Sea Samples at the Levin Lab (Photo credits: Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki)

Before I visited the Levin Lab, I had already undertaken social science research on the deep sea for almost 4 years, studied the role of deep-sea science in global negotiations of the United Nations, talked to deep-sea scientists like Sylvia Earle, engaged with colleagues on discussions on marine genetic resources and marine scientific research capacity building, yet, I had never been so close to deep-sea life until I got to meet the Levin Lab.

At Scripps Institution of Oceanography, for the first time, I saw a deep-sea organism – I looked at the little creatures that had lived thousands of meters below the surface. As my hand was shaking, I did not get a clear photo of it – don’t drop it! How many hours must have gone into collecting, identifying, preserving, researching, storing it? How much research money must have gone into the research cruise collecting it? And what would still be possible with researching it in the future? I had heard about it so many times, met many people working on it, I had spoken and written about it, had seen pictures and videos of it, followed international negotiations that set regulations about it for the future – but I had never actually seen it. This is how my laboratory ethnography in the Levin Lab started.


Why Laboratory Ethnography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography?

Since 1903, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego has contributed to investigations of the ocean and atmosphere and is considered one of the most important centers for global earth science research and education in the world[1]. While Scripps research covers climate change impacts and adaptation, resilience to hazards, conservation and biodiversity, ocean and human health, national security, and innovative technology (ibid) to observe the planet – we would like to zoom into one specific laboratory: the Levin Lab.

The Levin Lab opening their doors on a social scientists’ eyes to life in the deep sea… f.l.t.r:. Angelica Bradley, Lisa Levin, Francis Nguyen, Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki, John Howel, Olivia Pereira, Carlos Neira and Guillermo Mendoza (Photo credits: Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki)

Prof. Lisa Levin is a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.  She served as Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and Oliver Chair at Scripps from 2011-2017. Levin’s research interests include biodiversity and climate change impacts on deep-sea continental margin, and the application of deep-sea science to policy. Her lab studies benthic ecosystems in the deep sea and shallow water and has worked with a broad range of taxa, from microbes and microalgae to invertebrates, fishes and whales. Her recent research has emphasized 3 major themes: (1) the structure, function and vulnerability of continental margin ecosystems, particularly those subject to oxygen and sulfide stress, ocean acidification and deoxygenation; (2) wetland biotic interactions; and (3) larval ecology of coastal marine populations with emphasis on connectivity[2]. Levin’s deep-sea research has been conducted on over 50 expeditions to the margins of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans using ships, submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to observe, sample and conduct experiments. Now, after her retirement, there still remain seven lab members in the Levin Lab, working on the different projects that she oversees.

A regular day in the lab..?

Identifying species with the Levin Lab (Photo credits: Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki)

There was no one day like the other in my fieldwork – and this is also true for marine research in the Levin Lab. The two weeks enabled me to shadow the scientists in their meetings, classes, observe their lab work with the samples, identification of species under the microscope, and data analysis of research cruise pictures and videos. Not only is the team diverse in their academic and cultural backgrounds, including researchers from Chile, Brazil, Mexico and the United States, but also the projects they work on within the Levin Lab include different geographical regions with study sites in Southern California, the deep Alaska continental margin and Costa Rica, with research topics ranging from  studying effects of DDT waste barrels in a previous industrial dumpsite in the San Pedro basin of Los Angeles; exploration and characterization of microbial and animal biodiversity in the Southern California Borderland; over effects of phosphorite and ferro-manganese crusts on the biology; to studying methane seeps in Costa Rica and hypoxia in coastal estuaries.

The Levin Lab is working on a range of different types of data: during the cruise they collect temperature, salinity, oxygen values for the water, sometimes turbidity, light, or fluorescence. The hyrographic data are automatically sent to the national database Rolling deck to repository (R2R). Moreover, the biological data are very labor-intensive and can take months to years to generate because the scientists in the Levin Lab have to sort the invertebrates out of the samples and measure the properties of the sediments and fauna (MARIPOLDATA Interview with Lisa Levin, 2022). The Levin Lab scientists then use both the physical samples, as well as pictures and videos from the cruises to map and understand the benthic communities.

There was also time to get a sense of the work of other Scripps laboratories, such as getting to know about gene sequences at Greg Rouse’s Lab  and taking a tour through the benthic invertebrate collection of amazing deep-sea creatures.
Besides getting to know the day-to-day work of Scripps scientists, I also conducted semi-structured interviews to understand how they became scientists, their motivations, what fascinates them in research, and got insights into their time on the vessel, and other moments that I could not capture in the little snapshot of two-week laboratory ethnography. What is it like to be on the submarine Alvin  – what crosses a scientist’s mind when descending several thousands of metres down into the depth of the ocean? What are opportunities, challenges and fears of individual scientists when it comes to funding their research? And what do the United States provide as national infrastructures for monitoring marine biodiversity and supporting science?

Benthic Invertebrate Collection, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Through desk research and interviews, I could identify the conditions and obligations of US scientists, as regards the national and international regulations for their research. While scientists require a research permit in foreign waters, in US waters 3 miles off shore and when conducting research in US sanctuaries, marine scientific research in international waters is currently possible without a permit as regulated under the freedom of scientific research under UNCLOS (Art. 87 (f)).  As US federal funders generally require a data management plan in their grant proposals, scientists will thus commit to uploading their data to specific databases. While making data available to all is desirable, some databases fit certain types of data better than others – e.g. Genbank works well for genetic sequence data – there is currently “no nice, easy home for ecological community data” (MARIPOLDATA Interview with Lisa Levin, 2022), the type of data that the Levin Lab is collecting.

When Science meets Policy

Photo taken through the microscope

Some things are so small, your eyes cannot see them, so far away, you might never reach them and so different you may not be able to ever relate to them. But still, they are there and they are alive, in the deepest places of our ocean. The research of the Levin Lab is significant for international policy-making on global ocean and marine biodiversity governance because it seeks to understand life on the bottom of our ocean (benthic communities) and the conditions the deep-sea animals need to strive, as well as the implications that their existence has on surrounding ecosystems.

Lisa Levin is increasingly involved with policy through her engagement in different international fora. She is co-founder and co-lead of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI)[3], author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, active participant at the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and co-lead of the Deep Ocean Observing Strategy (DOOS)[4]. Apart from being involved in the intersections between science and policy herself, she also encourages early career researchers to get involved in communicating their research to policy-makers and the public. For this reason, the Levin Lab was also engaged in the first ever Climate Ocean Pavilion at a 27th climate conference of the parties (COP27) with Scripps[5].  International policy topics that she is recently engaged in are the link between climate change and the deep sea (Bris & Levin, 2020; Levin, 2019, 2021; Levin et al., 2020) and pointing to the risks of deep-seabed mining (Levin et al., 2016).

Reflecting on the two weeks of laboratory ethnography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the Levin Lab, this time provided me with – not just increased knowledge about the deep ocean – but also with incredible experiences and insights into the laboratory work, the situation researchers face, their motivations and a better understanding of marine science in the United States.  Throughout 2023, the MARIPOLDATA team will be able to use the data to compare it to the other cases of Brazil and the EU.

At the MARIPOLDATA Ocean Seminar Climate Change and the Deep Sea: Science-Policy perspectives, Lisa Levin gave insights into how climate change and the deep sea are interconnected and should therefore also be in global policy-making. While the science points to the importance of these links, climate change seems to still be marginalized in ocean discussions. Maybe science could be better integrated into global ocean governance through an Intergovernmental Panel for Ocean Sustainability (Gaill et al., 2022)..?



[3] DOSI integrates science, technology, policy, law and economics to advise on ecosystem-based management of resource use in the deep ocean and strategies to maintain the integrity of deep-ocean ecosystems within and beyond national jurisdictions.

[4] a program within the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) which aims to coordinate deep ocean-observing to address needs of climate science and society.






Bris, N. L., & Levin, L. A. (2020). 161Climate change cumulative impacts on deep-sea ecosystems. In Natural Capital and Exploitation of the Deep Ocean (pp. 0). doi:10.1093/oso/9780198841654.003.0009

Gaill, F., Brodie Rudolph, T., Lebleu, L., Allemand, D., Blasiak, R., Cheung, W. W. L., . . . Poivre d’Arvor, O. (2022). An evolution towards scientific consensus for a sustainable ocean future. npj Ocean Sustainability, 1(1), 7. doi:10.1038/s44183-022-00007-1

Levin, L. A. (2019). Oceanography (Washington, D.C.), 32, 180. doi:10.5670/oceanog.2019.224

Levin, L. A. (2021). IPCC and the Deep Sea: A Case for Deeper Knowledge. Frontiers in Climate, 3. Retrieved from

Levin, L. A., Bett, B. J., Gates, A. R., Heimbach, P., Howe, B. M., Janssen, F., . . . Weller, R. A. (2019). Global Observing Needs in the Deep Ocean. 6(241). doi:10.3389/fmars.2019.00241

Levin, L. A., Mengerink, K., Gjerde, K. M., Rowden, A. A., Van Dover, C. L., Clark, M. R., . . . Brider, J. (2016). Defining “serious harm” to the marine environment in the context of deep-seabed mining. Marine Policy, 74, 245-259. doi:

Levin, L. A., Wei, C.-L., Dunn, D. C., Amon, D. J., Ashford, O. S., Cheung, W. W. L., . . . Yasuhara, M. (2020). Climate change considerations are fundamental to management of deep-sea resource extraction. Global Change Biology, 26(9), 4664-4678. doi:

Smith, N. (2019). Engineering & technology, 14, 63. doi:10.1049/et.2019.0706

Tessnow-von Wysocki, I., & Vadrot, A. B. M. (2020). The Voice of Science on Marine Biodiversity Negotiations: A Systematic Literature Review. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7. Retrieved from

Vadrot, A. B. M. (2020). Multilateralism as a ‘site’ of struggle over environmental knowledge: the North-South divide. Critical Policy Studies, 14(2), 233-245. doi:10.1080/19460171.2020.1768131

Vadrot, A. B. M., Langlet, A., Tessnow-von Wysocki, I., Tolochko, P., Brogat, E., & Ruiz-Rodríguez, S. C. (2021). Marine Biodiversity Negotiations During COVID-19: A New Role for Digital Diplomacy? Global Environmental Politics, 1-18. doi:10.1162/glep_a_00605

Diving into Marine Issues of the Global Biodiversity Framework: How global will the new biodiversity framework be?

Member States to the United Nations are now meeting in Montreal, Canada to adopt the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)[1]. An Open-ended Working Group was tasked to prepare the draft text prior to the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP). As outstanding issues remained unresolved[2], time for discussions was extended further. The MARIPOLDATA team closely followed the preparations for the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework since October 2021 with the first virtual session of COP15, followed by on-site participation in the Working Group Meetings in Geneva in March 2022, Nairobi in June 2022 and are represented in Montreal, Canada for the 5th meeting, as well as COP15, in December 2022. This blog provides an overview of marine-related issues in the current draft of the new GBF that are also relevant to the upcoming negotiations for a legally-binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)[3].

Photo by Kris-Mikael Krister on Unsplash


A Framework for the World to live in Harmony with Nature by 2050

The global biodiversity crisis is not new to policy-makers around the globe – the recognition that biodiversity loss is happening at an accelerating rate has led to many efforts to reverse biodiversity loss on national, regional and international levels. However, with the realisation that business-as-usual cannot lead to transformative change to reverse biodiversity loss, world leaders are now coming together to agree on action-oriented targets to “immediately” respond to the biodiversity crisis and to “put biodiversity on the path to recovery” in the next 10 years[4]. The first draft of the GBF includes a mission for 2030, a vision for 2050 and milestones to assess along the way to guarantee successful implementation of the framework. Moreover, the framework sets out 22 specific targets to be focused on, covering the themes a) reducing threats to biodiversity, b) meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing, c) tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming.

Representatives from governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academia and research last gathered in Nairobi, Kenya to draft the Post-2020 GBF to achieve living in harmony with nature by 2050. After the extended 5th session shortly before the upcoming conference, the draft will then be finalised and open for adoption at COP15 in Montreal, Canada under the presidency of China (7 to 19 December 2022).

Joining Ocean and Biodiversity efforts for a new Global Framework

There is no doubt we live on a blue planet with more than two-thirds covered by ocean. The ocean constitutes over 90 % of the habitable space on Earth, containing around 250,000 known species – not to speak of the significant biodiversity that is yet unknown to science[5]. The most recent 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook[6] and the Second Global Ocean Assessment[7] emphasise the continuous and increasing marine biodiversity loss, driven by human activities. Stressors include (over)fishing, exploitation of other marine resources, such as minerals, intentional and unintentional marine pollution, including plastic, chemicals and toxicants from shipping, tourism and the military, as well as noise pollution. Moreover, there are risks of further degradation of the marine environment and increased biodiversity loss by future (not yet authorised) activities; the most prevalent being deep sea-bed mining (Miller et al., 2021; Amon et al., 2022). The above-mentioned activities are stressors on biodiversity with uncertain consequences that might extend beyond our predictions and imagination. For the well-being of the planet and people, it is thus evident to put efforts into protecting marine biodiversity and the new GBF is a crucial step forward in reversing marine biodiversity loss.

The ocean is interconnected, but is often not treated this way in international law: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) divides the ocean into different maritime zones for governance and jurisdiction (Tessnow-von Wysocki & Vadrot, 2022). 64% of the ocean space (which is 95% of its volume!) is considered to be “international waters” or “the high seas”, which are the areas that do not fall under national jurisdiction of any state. The international effort to negotiate a new agreement on marine biodiversity conservation and sustainable use (beyond national jurisdiction) is underway and many links to the GBF can be observed. Relevance to marine biodiversity can be found in several parts of the framework by aiming to protect and sustainably use biodiversity. In this blog, we focus on the GBF targets in each of the three themes that are most relevant to the upcoming negotiations for a legally-binding agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

A) Reducing threats to marine biodiversity

During the Nairobi meetings, the Blue Leaders[8], a group of states calling for 30% of protected ocean areas made a joint intervention, reiterating the importance of the world’s ocean and pointing to current stressors including climate change, depleted fish stocks, unsustainable and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. The group agrees on the importance of protecting the ocean by 2030 “meaningfully” – that is to not simply establish “paper parks” (= protected areas that exist on paper but have no actual impact) but to effectively prevent destructive uses through implementation.  Goal A pursues to reduce threats to biodiversity, particularly Targets 1-3 make explicit mention to marine issues and spatial planning but included much contestation among governments in past meetings: Foreseeing divergence on key issues, an informal “friends of the co-leads” group was called together to discuss terminology across targets 1-3. Discussions included multiple views of states as regards the scope of the GBF: Views parted in the terminology of “land and sea” versus “land and ocean” areas. Moreover, a number of states also rejected the terminology “areas”, preferring reference to “ecosystems”. Divergence also existed on the definition of ecosystems, namely the difference between “all” ecosystems versus a specific listing of ecosystem (e.g. “terrestrial, inland water, freshwater, marine, and coastal ecosystems”).

Despite extensive informal discussions in the informal setting, as well as the formal contact group meetings and a long night session until the early morning hours, disagreement remained until the end of the conference on such terminology. While the majority of negotiators supported the inclusion of the entire ocean, some parties would like to limit the target to waters under national jurisdiction, and thereby exclude the high seas. Discussions also included divergence on references to human rights and Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) and related conventions. Placeholders were set on these contested issues, which means that the negotiation of such issues was postponed to the ongoing meeting in Canada.

These targets are particularly interesting for the upcoming BBNJ negotiations regarding area-based management tools, including marine protected areas. The GBF could in this way be the guidance for immediate action on area-based management tools for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which could be implemented through the new BBNJ instrument.  Moreover, the overall section of reducing threats to biodiversity also indirectly speak to the regulation of the conduct of environmental impact assessments (EIAs), for which the BBNJ instrument also has a mandate for.

B) Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources

Also particularly interesting to both negotiators in the CBD and BBNJ discussions is Target 13, as it regards the aim to facilitate access to genetic resources and to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Discussions in the CBD and BBNJ are very similar in this regard, when it comes to issues on, not only access to and sharing of benefits of the physical sample of the genetic resource, but also other data related to the genetic resource, such as digital sequence information (DSI). It will be important to coordinate negotiations to harmonise, rather than duplicate, efforts in both fora.

C) Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming

Target 20 of the current draft seeks to guarantee that relevant knowledge guides decision-making for the effective management of biodiversity. On a similar vein, BBNJ envisages a Scientific and Technical Body to provide a scientific base for implementation of the agreement that will need to correspond to other forms of knowledge, apart from scientific research. One pillar of the BBNJ instrument is capacity building and transfer of marine technology to guarantee advancements in marine scientific research and the inclusion of knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to support the effective implementation of the agreement. Coordination in this regard would ensure that advancing ocean science and embracing different knowledge systems under the BBNJ instrument contributes to holistic biodiversity governance envisaged by the GBF.

All eyes on the GBF – and on BBNJ: What happens next?

Negotiators meet in December 2022 to adopt the new Global Biodiversity Framework and the negotiations for a legally-binding agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) will conclude early next year.

Links between BBNJ and the GBF are obvious:

  • The BBNJ negotiations include the topic of access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction and questions on a future Access and Benefit Sharing Mechanism (ABS). Questions on DSI of (marine) genetic resources are part of target 13 of the GBF and discussions need to be coordinated across the different fora.
  • The BBNJ instrument will have the mandate to establish Area-based management tools (ABMTs), including marine protected areas (MPAs) in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which directly link to the spatial planning targets 1-3 of the GBF. It is crucial that the GBF refers to the entire ocean – as opposed to marine areas under national jurisdiction – in order to be a global framework.
  • The BBNJ agreement will regulate the conduct of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which will respond to efforts to conserve and sustainably use of global biodiversity. Target 15 of the GBF refers to the environmental impact assessments to be conducted by all businesses to determine their footprint and dependencies on biodiversity.
  • The final pillar of the BBNJ agreement regards capacity building and the transfer of marine technology (CBTMT), which relates to target 20 of the GBF. A future Scientific and Technical Body for BBNJ will need to ensure relevant knowledge is available for decision-making and management of biodiversity.

It is crucial that there is coordination between the negotiations for the BBNJ treaty and the GBF when it comes to questions of terminology, scope and state obligations in order to effectively conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity. While areas beyond national jurisdiction are supposed to fall into the BBNJ instrument’s mandate, future implementation would still benefit from the guidance of the global biodiversity framework, which – by its title – cannot exclude certain marine areas.

The meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group in Nairobi left many questions unanswered and after additional discussions in an Informal Group in September[9], much pressure rests on negotiators of the final 5th  Open-Ended Working Group to streamline the text as best as possible before the start of the COP. Not an easy task with around 900 brackets remaining (text that has not been agreed upon)[10]: The draft text is not clear in many of the targets and time is running, but more importantly, like Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Mrema, said: “Biodiversity cannot wait.” There is the hope that with only a few days left to negotiate, states will show more flexibility in their positions and approach one another in the spirit of compromise. While the overall aim is to develop a framework for the world on how to protect, sustainably use and share benefits deriving from biodiversity in the next decades to come, it is yet to be seen, how holistic and global the framework will be drafted for final adoption at the upcoming COP15.

Negotiators from both fora need to coordinate efforts so that the global road map corresponds to the realities on the ground. Efforts to setting global targets and creating institutions to implement them should go hand in hand. The fact that these processes are simultaneously happening can be an advantage in ensuring clearly formulated targets and the development of institutions that can lead to successful implementation and take immediate, urgent action, aligned under one common purpose: our vision for 2050.  The Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on the Law of the Sea might be two different conventions, with distinct mandates – but if you think about it there is much more that unites them: The same governments are negotiating in these fora, taking decisions about the same planet – having the same objective: conserving and sustainably using biodiversity.

A big thank you to the High Seas Alliance and Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative who funded my conference participation to attend the 4th Open-Ended Working Group Meeting in Nairobi and the MARIPOLDATA team who conducted digital ethnography from Vienna.




[4] First draft of the GBF:


[6] P.156. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal:




[10] Daily CBD Press Briefing:



Amon, D. J., Gollner, S., Morato, T., Smith, C. R., Chen, C., Christiansen, S., . . . Pickens, C. (2022). Assessment of scientific gaps related to the effective environmental management of deep-seabed mining. Marine Policy, 138, 105006. doi:

Miller, K. A., Brigden, K., Santillo, D., Currie, D., Johnston, P., & Thompson, K. F. (2021). Challenging the Need for Deep Seabed Mining From the Perspective of Metal Demand, Biodiversity, Ecosystems Services, and Benefit Sharing. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8. doi:

Tessnow-von Wysocki., I., & Vadrot, A., B. M. . (2022). Governing a divided ocean: The transformative power of ecological connectivity in the BBNJ negotiations. Politics and governance, 10, 28. doi:

Tessnow-von Wysocki, I., & Vadrot, A. B. M. (2020). The Voice of Science on Marine Biodiversity Negotiations: A Systematic Literature Review. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7. doi: