MARIPOLDATA explores international scientific cooperation at the All Atlantic Ocean Research Forum

Bringing together the Atlantic Research Community

On the 6th and 7th of February 2020, I attended on behalf of the MARIPOLDATA team the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Forum hosted by the European Commission. With the vision to strengthen the Atlantic community, the event gathered around 700 policy makers, scientists, civil society and business representatives. The participants came from the All-Atlantic Research Alliance members: European Union, USA, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Cape Verde and Argentina. Representatives of the very diverse scientific community doing research in or for the ocean included oceanographers, geologists, ecologists, biologists but also social and data scientists as well as many other fields. Furthermore, businesses and civil society actors that address oceanic and environmental issues were present and mixed with the scientists and policy makers during the many networking breaks. On top of that, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth launched the All-Atlantic Ocean Youth Forum which invited 23 Youth Ambassadors to learn from and engage with political, social, economic and scientific leaders.

The program led the participants through five thematic sessions on (1) a Climate Resilient Ocean, (2) a Living and Diverse Atlantic Ocean, (3) Unveiling the Resources of the Atlantic Ocean, (4) Connecting our Atlantic Ocean to our Citizens and (5) a Pollution-Free Atlantic Ocean. In each thematic session, a number of innovative scientific or societal projects presented possible solutions for some of the challenges facing the Atlantic Ocean. These exhibitions were followed by panel discussions in which political and civil society leaders debated how to apply and build on the knowledge and ideas introduced in the presentations.

The conference gave an overview about the progress in marine research cooperation that the European Union and its partners across the Atlantic Ocean have achieved since the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation (EU – US – Canada) and the Belém Statement on Atlantic Research and Innovation Cooperation (EU – Brazil – South Africa) in 2017. These declarations initiated political efforts to integrate and commonly undertake research activities all across the Atlantic Ocean. The two-day All Atlantic Research Forum now brought the oceanic community together, displaying the results and outcomes of this research cooperation, while also defining a vision to continue and strengthen the international cooperation in the upcoming years. In the following, I will give an overview over the main themes and learnings from the event and how and why they matter for the ongoing negotiations on a legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity in areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).

I participated in the conference in my capacity as a PhD student within the ERC project MARIPOLDATA to learn about the status of Atlantic Ocean research cooperation and about the relations between science and policy-making in this process.

This discussion on the science-policy interface links the All Atlantic Research Forum to the ongoing negotiations of a new legally-binding treaty under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea aiming at the protection of marine biodiversity. The BBNJ negotiations will go into the fourth intergovernmental session from March 23 to April 4 2020 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Effective science-policy interrelations are crucial for the formulation and implementation of an effective and ambitious treaty and serve as the research focus for the MARIPOLDATA project.

With an eye on the upcoming BBNJ negotiation session, what can we learn from the practice of international scientific cooperation exhibited at the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Forum?

Manuel Heitor, Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Portugal welcomes the participants during the second day, highlighting the importance of international cooperation between scientists and civil society to achieve “science for a better community”

International Research Cooperation in Action

To begin with, international scientific cooperation across the Atlantic Ocean basin exists and flourishes. The sea not only separates but also connects continents and countries. The efforts of the Atlantic ocean research community to explore and understand the ocean from north to south (pole to pole) and from the surface to the bottom are an excellent example of how international scientific cooperation looks like and how such science diplomacy contributes to building trust, capacity and a common understanding of the ocean´s problems.

The importance of cooperation in the organization of common expeditions and cruises as well as in the maintenance of data infrastructures and open sharing of data was repeatedly highlighted and demonstrated through practical examples. International cooperation initiatives such as the Horizon 2020 funded AtlantOS Ocean observing program or the Atlantic International Research center are the concrete fruits of the political will to team up for exploring the ocean.

Many of the topics discussed at the All Atlantic Ocean Research Forum also play a role in the context of the BBNJ negotiations. For example, all thematic sessions addressed questions on the sharing and exchanging of scientific data, be it in relation to the work of IPBES on terrestrial biodiversity data or the use of data for hydrographic services. The scientific community at the Forum discussed how to bring data from different sources together and how standards for data formats and metadata can be agreed upon in light of different scientific realities and cultures of scientific enquiry. A very similar discussion is taking place in the BBNJ negotiations.

MARIPOLDATA was present amongst many other initiatives

In the framework of the Atlantic scientific cooperation, the European Commission invested in a number of open data initiatives such as the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Services which provides free access to environmental monitoring data from satellites, weather stations, ocean buoys and a range of other sources. But also private sector projects such as Fugro through the seabed mapping project, increasingly make data publicly available to the scientific and public community.

While the road towards open access for everyone is long, the conference participants confirmed that as one All Atlantic Youth Ambassador claimed it: “ocean data belongs to everyone and everyone should have access to it”.

The All Atlantic Research Forum acknowledges, as does the MARIPOLDATA project, the large inequalities in the capacities and economic resources to conduct ocean science. These inequalities are one of the largest obstacles to the creation of a common understanding of the environmental, societal and economical challenges and opportunities that the Atlantic represents. Particularly the dense and institutionalized cooperation networks between European scientists are a resource that African researchers cannot rely upon.

On the importance of the science to policy (and society) interface:

Most importantly however, all participants agreed that the importance of science-policy interrelations has so far been understated and needs to be significantly strengthened in any future scientific cooperation initiatives or in international fora such as the BBNJ negotiations. In the BBNJ negotiations, we observe that many states use scientific claims to exert influence on the treaty draft text. The institutionalization of the science-policy interface in a possible upcoming treaty is yet undefined and feeds the research of the MARIPOLDATA project.

As Pascal Lamy, Chair of the Horizon Europe Mission Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters, formulated it quite fittingly: “There is a long bridge between science and politics and we have had a big problem crossing this bridge”. In consequence, many panels at the Research Forum tackled questions on how to better communicate scientific findings, support political decisions with scientific knowledge and create awareness for ocean issues amongst the public or policy makers. One finding was that the interface between science and society or politics needs to receive increased attention and investments.

Panelists especially highlighted the role of scientific communication and storytelling, in order to reach and stronger include society into ocean research and protection. The BBC Blue Planet documentaries for example have managed to make large audiences aware of plastic pollution in the oceans. Storytelling and good communication can establish an emotional connection to the ocean.

Some panelists noted that there is a difference between natural sciences and social sciences and that the role of social sciences and social innovations cannot be overstated. While the natural sciences can bring certain information about the state of the marine ecosystems to the table, social sciences need to bring it into political and social context. But the participants agreed that communication should not be understood as a one way street because knowledge production can only happen in interaction via a user-driven and interdisciplinary process.

Ways to connect the Atlantic Ocean to Citizens: experiencing the thrill of being an oceanographer via video games

Ways to connect the Atlantic Ocean to Citizens: stories that create an emotional connection















The Atlantic Ocean, as other ocean ecosystems, is undergoing profound changes that are well- documented in the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere and the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. In order to reach any ocean-related environmental target such as the SDG 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, a broad and strong alliance between governments, science, businesses, civil society and education needs to contribute to understanding and sustainably managing our oceans.

The All Atlantic Ocean Research Forum gave political impetus for transnational scientific cooperation to support the implementation of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. It also fostered international networks between scientists, civil society and businesses that may contribute to reaching the priorities such as the European Green Deal, the Horizon Europe Mission Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters and other national or regional commitments.

For me, the All Atlantic Ocean Research Forum was an exciting exhibition of current international cooperation in ocean research. I was able to learn a lot about the practices of the many research initiatives that were present at the Forum. The MARIPOLDATA project can contribute to better understand some of the challenges to connect the science to political and societal processes.


MARIPOLDATA interactive dashboard: showing the evolution of the Marine Biodiversity field since 1990

Marine biodiversity science is central for current efforts to establish a new treaty for the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). However, for a long time, a lack of scientific knowledge on the ocean was conceived as the main challenge for advancing efforts to protect ocean ecosystems. Nowadays the field is evolving quickly. New initiatives such as the Census of Marine Life or the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) contributed to the rise of new data and a deeper understanding of the marine world and of its different components.

In order to understand how science has shaped international efforts to protect marine biodiversity, the MARIPOLDATA project combines the empirical study of international negotiations with a systematic analysis of the development and characteristics of the scientific field. Examining the role of science in international negotiations enables us to study and observe the role of science in the making of a new treaty and to shed light on how scientific capital influences the preferences of governments on how marine biodiversity ought to be protected, shared and sustainably used.

To this end, MARIPOLDATA (WP2) develops a large database of scientific publications related to marine biodiversity, analyzing the content of the publications, as well as international collaboration patterns in the discipline. The current blog serves as the first foray into our results and can be accessed here:

With this interactive entry, we show how the field of marine biodiversity has been evolving in the past 30 years in terms of content. Marine biodiversity can be defined as “an aggregation of highly interconnected ecosystem components or features, encompassing all levels of biological organization from genes, species, populations to ecosystems […]” (Cochrane et al. 2017).The interactive dashboard allows to dive deeper into this aggregation and the different aspects covered by the concept. The dashboard is designed to show what has been written about marine biodiversity, more specifically what keywords authors use, when writing scientific publications in the field, and how the keywords are related to each other. Since the field of marine biodiversity is a rather diverse in and of itself, this visualization allows to trace the patterns of keywords and the scope of the discipline, which was continuously increasing in the last 30 years.

This visualization is based on 26.000 scientific abstracts from 1990 until 2019 (retrieved from Web of Science), and you can choose any year within this time period to see whether the keywords, or their patterns of co-occurrence have changed over time. The keywords are connected if they appear, or “co-occur” in the same abstract. By default, the visualization shows the top (highest frequency) 100 keyword pairs from the selected year, but you can select to show top 50 to top 750 pairs.

The interactive dashboard will evolve over time with more functionality and more interesting data added. We will keep you posted.

Link to the dashboard:

(Note: the colors are mainly for aesthetic reasons and should not be over interpreted.)


Wie die Welt marine Biodiversität verhandelt

Die Zukunft der marinen Artenvielfalt ist ungewiss und wird derzeit diskutiert. Das MARIPOLDATA Projekt untersucht die Verhandlungen über ein neues, internationales Abkommen, um herauszufinden, wie Macht und Wissenschaft in der internationalen Umweltpolitik zusammenspielen.

Steigendes wirtschaftliches Interesse an Meeresressourcen, fortschreitende Technologie und Digitalisierung, neue Erkenntnisse über die Tiefsee sowie Umweltauswirkungen auf marine Artenvielfalt und Ökosysteme zeigen Lücken im bestehenden Seerechtsabkommen der Vereinten Nationen (UNCLOS) auf und erfordern eine Regulierung der außerhalb staatlicher Rechtsprechung liegenden Meeresgebiete. Diese machen ca. 94 Prozent des Volumens unserer Ozeane aus. Als Antwort wird momentan ein internationales Abkommen für den Schutz und die nachhaltige Nutzung der Biodiversität in Gebieten der hohen See und des Tiefseebodens (Biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction – BBNJ) im Rahmen der Vereinten Nationen verhandelt. Das Abkommen umfasst marine Genressourcen, gebietsbezogene Managementmaßnahmen einschließlich Meeresschutzgebiete, Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfungen und Kapazitätsaufbau sowie Transfer von Meerestechnologie.

Der Beitrag ist im Rahmen der aktuellen SEMESTERFRAGE der Uni Wien entstanden

Das MARIPOLDATA Projekt „The Politics of Marine Biodiversity Data: Global and National Policies and Practices of Monitoring the Oceans“ untersucht die Verhandlungen über das neue Abkommen dahingehend, wie Macht und Wissenschaft in der internationalen Umweltpolitik zusammenspielen. Das Ziel des MARIPOLDATA Teams, bestehend aus Alice Vadrot, der Leiterin des Projekts, Emmanuelle Brogat, Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki, Petro Tolochko und Arne Langlet, ist es, einen neuen interdisziplinären Ansatz zu entwickeln, um die (geo-) politische Rolle globaler und nationaler Forschungs- und Dateninfrastrukturen und das Ineinanderwirken von Wissenschaft und Politik neu denken und empirisch erfassen zu können.

Dies ist von Bedeutung für marine Ökosysteme, über die – besonders in der Tiefsee – kaum Daten zur Verfügung stehen. Die Forschung in der Hoch- und Tiefsee ist kostspielig und wird nur von einer überschaubaren Anzahl an Staaten betrieben und finanziert. Unternehmen, die in internationalen Gewässern forschen, sind nicht verpflichtet, ihre Daten oder daraus entstehende Gewinne zu teilen, etwa aus der Patentierung mariner genetischer Ressourcen.

Die aktuellen Verhandlungen sind existenziell für die marine Biodiversität und das Streben nach einer gerechten und nachhaltigen Nutzung der Meere. Die Regulierung der Meeresgebiete außerhalb staatlicher Rechtsprechung ist bislang lediglich teilweise durch fragmentierte regionale Schutzabkommen geregelt und ein Abkommen könnte einen großen Schritt zu mehr Artenschutz in den Weltmeeren bedeuten.

Wie funktioniert die Schnittstelle zwischen Wissenschaft und internationaler Politik?

Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki und Alice Vadrot bei den BBNJ Verhandlungen in den UN

Ina, Doktorandin im MARIPOLDATA Team, mit akademischen Hintergrund in Internationale Beziehungen und einer Leidenschaft für Umweltschutz, interessiert sie sich für Internationale Kooperation in Umweltfragen und spezialisiert sich auf Umweltprobleme, die sich – aufgrund ihres transnationalen Charakters – nur in internationalen Foren lösen lassen. Durch das Beobachten der Verhandlungen vor Ort und Interviews mit VertreterInnen von Regierungen, NGOs und der Wissenschaft, möchte sie zeigen, wie sich auf bestimmte Inhalte der Verhandlungen geeinigt wird und über welche Wege und Akteure es bestimmte Konzepte in den Vertragstext schaffen, während andere keine Priorität erhalten. Mit ihrer Forschung möchte Ina die aktuelle Praxis von Verhandlungen zu internationalen Umweltabkommen verstehen und aufzeigen, wessen Stimmen und Ideen auf welchen Wegen in der internationalen Umweltpolitik Gehör finden.

Arne, ebenfalls Doktorand im Team und in Nähe sowie enger Verbundenheit zum Meer aufgewachsen, freut sich, über das Projekt einen kleinen Beitrag dazu zu leisten, wie

Arne Langlet und Alice Vadrot im UN Verhandlungssaal

die Ozeane in den nächsten Jahrzehnten verwaltet und geschützt werden. Mit seiner Forschung versucht er, den Einfluss der sozialen Netzwerke, die zwischen Staaten und ExpertInnen existieren, aufzuzeigen. So kann ein Netzwerk-orientiertes Verständnis von Macht in internationalen Verhandlungen die Akteure sensibilisieren, dass bestehende Ungleichheiten nicht in einen neuen internationalen Körper kopiert werden und dort für Konflikte und das Nicht-Durchführen von Schutzmaßnahmen sorgen.

Petro, der Post-Doc des Projekts, untersucht den wissenschaftlichen Output der Meeresforschung anhand von quantitativen Indikatoren. So kann er in diesem bisher kaum erforschten wissenschaftssoziologischen Gebiet aufzeigen, dass es eine signifikante globale Ungleichheit im wissenschaftlichen Nutzen der Ozeane gibt und welche Themen von ForscherInnen aus verschiedenen Erdteilen besonders bedient werden.

Die Zukunft der marinen Artenvielfalt ist ungewiss und wird derzeit verhandelt. Gemeinsam arbeitet das MARIPOLDATA Team daran, mit den gewonnen Erkenntnissen die wissenschaftliche Debatte voranzubringen und die politischen VerhandlerInnen zu informieren. So hofft das Team, einen positiven Beitrag zu der Entstehung eines fairen und anspruchsvollen Abkommens zu leisten, welches die marine Artenvielfalt nachhaltig und unter Einbeziehung von wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnissen überall auf der Welt schützt.

Dieser Blog wurde vom MARIPOLDATA-Team für den Univie Blog geschrieben. Der Originalartikel kann im Blog der Universität Wien HIER nachgelesen werden.

Roundtable Reflections: Using Oral History in Marine Science-Policy Relations

Reported by Bekki Parrish NERC-funded Policy Intern (May – July 2019) and Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator.

Coinciding with the ongoing negotiations on legal instruments to protect marine biological diversity under the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), CSaP convened a roundtable in conjunction with Dr Alice Vadrot, Assistant Professor and MARIPOLDATA Project Principal Investigator, on the use of oral histories in marine conservation.

Oral histories are a powerful interview tool for developing personal narratives and exploring how historical experiences and knowledge impact upon personal insights, sense of identity, and future endeavours. Throughout the roundtable, the importance of this tool in information propagation, science, and policymaking, was made salient through researchers’ experiences, including Dr. Vadrot’s experience using oral histories to map expertise in the field of marine biodiversity.

Through oral history mapping projects, researchers can identify the lead scientific experts and their networks, understand how information travels through such networks and how scientists are positioned in order to support intergovernmental negotiations regarding marine protection. These efforts shine light on the intersections between science, policy and politics, while highlighting key points at which those working in marine biodiversity science can best engage with intergovernmental policy efforts.

Dr. Vadrot was joined on the panel by Dr Sally Horrocks and Dr Paul Merchant, both of whom are researchers with the National Life Stories oral history programme, which was recently commissioned to collect multi-session interviews with scientists and engineers, and is supported by the British Library. Sharing evidence gathered from interviews with oceanographers such as Philip Woodworth, Dr. Merchant highlighted two key avenues through which scientists become involved in international negotiations and intergovernmental policy-formation: policy relevancy resulting in expert consultation, and research driven by government funding. These discussions emphasized the importance of effective communications between scientists and those outside academia at a time when marine issues including biodiversity and plastic pollution are high on the global policymaking agenda.

CSaP seeks to foster knowledge exchanges and create new links between academics and practitioners with a view to supporting the relationship between those tackling challenges in the science and policy sectors. MARIPOLDATA is an ERC Starting Grant Project and this workshop was also part of the main objective of the project to develop a new methodology to study science policy interrelation in practice.

This blog has been written and published by the Centre for Science and Policy. The original article can be consulted HERE.




MARIPOLDATA Methods Workshop

On the 10th and 11th of September, the MARIPOLDATA project hosted a workshop on conceptual and methodological frameworks and approaches for research at global environmental negotiations. The workshop built strongly on the work by Hughes and Vadrot on Methodological Innovation in the Study of Global Environmental Agreement Making and was held in relation to the research conducted by the MARIPOLDATA team at the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) in New York. Scholars from different parts of the world and different disciplines came together to bring their experience in global environmental negotiations to the table to develop methodological innovations. Postgraduate scholars had the chance to discuss interactively their needs and perspectives with the experienced academics. The goals were defined in regards of the research that the MARIPOLDATA team is conducting at the BBNJ negotiations: To develop methodological innovations that may transform how we collectively study global environmental agreement making, while also giving practical guidance for early career researchers and others interested in the study of environmental meetings. The insights generated in the interdisciplinary and very interactive workshops can be applied throughout the investigation process that the MARIPOLDATA team undertakes at the BBNJ meetings.

Tracy Bach (Vermont Law School) and Beth Martin (Washington University) presented a text on the practicalities of being an observer, introducing the particular and sometimes overwhelming aspects of international negotiation sites as research spaces. Their contribution helps future researchers to navigate not only the physical but also the intellectual negotiating spaces.

Jen Iris Allan (Cardiff University) and Pamela Chasek (Manhattan College) drew from their vast experience as authors and managers of the Earth Negotiation Bulletin in order to deliver a contribution overviewing the various types of textual documents that are available in the process of international environmental negotiations and how to approach them analytically.

Yulia Yamineva from the University of Finland shared her experience in conducting interviews at international environmental negotiations. Because interviewing diplomats during ongoing negotiations underlies different methodological challenges such as very limited and often spontaneous availability of the interviewees, researchers that want to conduct and use interviews need to take into account some common pitfalls and tips that were mentioned.

On the second day, Marcela Vecchione Gonçalves from the Center for Amazonian Studies at the Federal University of Pará shared her insights on the ethics of researching indigenous peoples’ representation at international meetings. Indigenous peoples are increasingly represented at international negotiations concerning the climate, biodiversity and the oceans and researchers should approach them as subjects of policy-making, taking indigenous understandings of cosmopolitics seriously.

Kim Marion Suiseeya from the Northwestern University explored the opportunities that ethnographic research provides for studying international negotiation sites and highlighted the importance that researchers iteratively reflect on their work and their subjective interpretation of their observations.

Noella Gray from the University of Guelph contributed with a view on collaboration and multi-sited ethnography. Sharing her extensive experience in collaborative projects, she emphasized that coordinated research in a team has a number of advantages that go beyond the increased number of ‘eyes and ears’ at the research site.

Jennifer Bansard from the University of Potsdam contributed with a text on how to approach side events, issue-specific events taking place outside but parallel to the negotiations, at international environmental negotiations. Side events could be studied either as objects of research or as sites for data collection both of which approaches require different practical and methodological considerations.


Group picture of the participants of the MARIPOLDATA Methods Workshop

In the subsequent roundtable all participants discussed lively why this sort of research matters and may matter increasingly as more and more international bodies are being created. They also discussed what steps the group needs to take next in order to further the methodological conversation and realize the practical guide for young researchers. All scholars left with many ideas and suggestions for collaborative projects in the future.

On Thursday, Marcela Vecchione Gonçalves concluded this eventful week with a public presentation on the situation of indigenous people, land and climate politics in Brazil. While the diverse audience listened attentively, Marcela Gonçalves demonstrated impressively how seemingly local struggles between indigenous land holders and agricultural corporations in the Amazon region are interrelated with political struggles on the national level – not only in Brazil but in European countries as well – and international environmental negotiations.



Slow progress in the third BBNJ meeting: Negotiations are moving – but sideways

After the observations of the first week of the third Intergovernmental Conference (IGC 3) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, the MARIPOLDATA team shares insights of the second week. This blog entry provides a summary of the topics discussed, overall progress made, as well as the challenges that remain to be resolved for the upcoming fourth Intergovernmental Conference (IGC 4) in March 2020.

Imagine all the people, sharing all the ocean

To whom belong the parts of the ocean that are shared among all states? Under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), states are free to navigate the areas beyond national jurisdiction and can enjoy “the freedom of the high seas” (UNCLOS Art 87). However, does that imply that all states can collect resources in these areas, conduct research, discover new species and develop new pharmaceutical or other commercial products from the marine genetic material found in the depths of our common ocean? Marine scientific research is costly and not all states have the capacities to access marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction. But should the ones who invest in discovering new species and developing new products not be allowed to own their “treasure”? This calls for a new regulatory framework for marine genetic resources (MGRs), which constitutes one of the four pillars of the future new legally binding instrument. The question is whether this agreement will allow for “first come – first serve” or ensure that the resources of our ocean are considered “common heritage of humankind” with access to and benefits from these resources being shared among all states, taking into consideration current and future generations, as well as the environment in itself.

Delegations negotiating the BBNJ zero draft text, while NGOs and IGOs observe from the side

The BBNJ crab dance

The second week of negotiations of the third Intergovernmental Conference (IGC 3) continued with discussions on the remaining cross-cutting issues, and the four BBNJ packages marine genetic resources (MGRs), area-based management tools (ABMTs), environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TT). The conference included the two formats of the previous week, namely “Informal Working Groups” – discussions in the plenary, which were open to all participants of the conference, including non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations (NGOs and IGOs) – and so called “Informal Informals”, which were held in a smaller room, with restricted access for NGOs and without the participation of the press. The presidency had introduced the informal informals in the first week of ICG 3 to allow government representatives to negotiate text in an informal setting and eventually start developing compromised treaty language.

The MARIPOLDATA team representing the University of Vienna as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)

Enthusiasm for the structure of the informal informals, however, was rather limited: On the side of the NGOs because they were only permitted restricted access and on the side of the government representatives because the dynamic was very similar to the discussions in the plenary, not allowing for informal talks on specific issues that needed further elaboration. With only a few delegates praising this format, the majority was calling for a different dynamic of the sessions, with the opportunity for more in-depth, informal conversation, as well as greater transparency. Despite the formality of all sessions, discussions progressed in the different topics. Such progress could largely be seen in textual formulations, regarding agreement on the inclusion and exclusion of certain wording, re-structuring, streamlining or adding of articles and paragraphs. Nevertheless, key issues that have divided states’ positions since the beginning of the meetings, could not be resolved at this conference. Although only one further IGC is planned, the past 2-weeks of the BBNJ process rather reflected the walking of a crab – moving sideways, not forward.


Regarding marine genetic resources (MGRs), delegates agreed that the provisions in ABNJ should only apply after entry into force of the agreement, rather than retroactively[1]. However, key definitions remained unclarified, such as “marine genetic material” or “access to” MGRs. Further elaboration will be necessary on agreeing whether access to MGRs would entail collecting the resource where found/originated, where processed, or also to include digital sequence data and derivatives. Delegations are particularly divided on the question whether fish should be included as a marine genetic resource, due to concerns of impacts on current fisheries management and the problematic definition of “fish”. Another issue that will require further discussions are intellectual property rights regarding MGRs.

Discussions on area-based management tools (ABMTs) and marine protected areas (MPAs) achieved progress in clarifying the specific steps of the process. Delegates agreed that consultation and assessment of proposals for ABMTs should be inclusive, open and transparent[2]. They identified a potential advisory role for a scientific and technical body for making these proposals, however, there is still a lack of shared understanding on definitions of ABMTs and MPAs and implications for their respective processes. There is agreement that state parties should be responsible for making the proposals for ABMTs and MPAs but delegations are still divided on the question whether a scientific and technical body should be involved in monitoring and review. Another issue that has sparked disagreement and remains unresolved is the relation between the new instrument and other legal global, regional, sub-regional and sectoral bodies, which has been slowing down progress over the past two weeks.

Delegates welcomed discussions regarding environmental impact assessments (EIAs), expressing the need for monitoring, reporting and review. However, the discussions did not give answers on thresholds or criteria to be used for EIAs and divided delegations into some supporting an “impact-oriented”, and others preferring an “activity-oriented” approach. Disagreement remains in regards to the type of impacts, including transboundary and cumulative impacts, as well as social, economic, cultural and health impacts. While governments of the Global South would like to see a reference to social, economic and cultural impacts of harmful activities in ABNJ – particularly on coastal states – governments of the Global North prefer a narrow focus on environmental impacts only. Whether to have a reference to coastal states at all remained contested and had to be postponed to future meetings. Similarly, discussions have not moved forward on identifying the role that traditional knowledge might play within the framework of an environmental impact assessment. Also the potential function of a scientific and technical body requires further elaboration, however, delegates generally preferred state parties to be the responsible entity.

Considering the limited capacity of developing countries, particularly of the least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS), and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TT) is of key importance for the G77/CHINA, the PSIDS, the African Group, as well as the Core Latin American Countries (CLAM) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Discussions on CB&TT showed progress on the potential role of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in developing a list of guidelines and in undertaking monitoring and review[3]. However, there are still diverging views on whether capacity building and marine technology transfer should have a mandatory element and be complemented by voluntary efforts, or if it should solely be voluntary. Questions, moreover, remain on which countries should benefit from CB&TT.

Regarding cross-cutting issues, delegates generally agreed on the establishment of a “clearing-house mechanism” (CHM), to provide a platform for sharing information and data. Discussions included the question of which entity to be the responsible body, whether to make information publicly available, how to deal with confidential data, as well as possible functions. Ideas included the dissemination of pre-cruise information and post-cruise notification, documentation of EIAs and cooperation regarding ABMTs[4]. While there was general agreement on making data and information publicly available while ensuring that confidential information is exempted, there is so far no agreement on the type of data and information that the CHM is supposed to provide, nor which body should be responsible for managing it. Suggestions include the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission (IOC-UNESCO) and the secretariat which will be established under the new instrument[5]. There was also overall support for the establishment of a Conference of the Parties (COP) to, among other functions, determine CB&TT types[6].

The part on the settlement of disputes could not be sufficiently discussed, even though delegates stayed longer than the interpreters were available. While there was agreement that states have an obligation to settle disputes by peaceful means, no agreement emerged on the procedures for such settlements, as positions divergence on to what extent the article should be drafted on the model of UNCLOS and what this would imply for its non-parties.

Several delegates emphasised the inclusion of the use of best available science and traditional knowledge of indigenous people and local communities, as well as additional principles, such as adjacency, transparency, the polluter pays principle, intra- and intergenerational equity, and the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment[7][8]. The PSIDS advocated for the establishment of a scientific, technical and technological body, and the inclusion of traditional knowledge of indigenous people and local communities, as well as the recognition of the special circumstances of SIDS.

Even though delegates already started text-based negotiations, discussing specific wording, no treaty will be concluded before states agree on the key issues that still divide positions until now. Therefore – considering that there is currently only one more BBNJ conference planned – state delegations have already expressed the need for quality of the agreement, rather than finishing in time and rushing into a treaty that everyone can interpret differently, or which implementation is not realistic.

Sailing in the same “IG-sea”

When the sun set over the UN headquarters on Friday, the discussions had already ended, as progress was not to be expected on the major issues until the next IGC. As the delegate of Japan mentioned in the ending remarks: This conference laid out the different positions of delegations and their level of flexibility very well[9]. But now everyone is looking towards the next conference with expectations: With the expectation that the president compiles the discussions into a first draft and proposes a negotiation format that will give delegates with their diverging views and interests sufficient time to discuss. Simultaneously, with the expectation that the draft covers as many issues as possible and guarantees transparency and representation of the delegations in the working groups. Not an easy task, considering the contrasting requests from delegations. While some delegations request a streamlined text, others prefer to have an options-based text, with all the points and positions raised at this conference.

Delegates and representatives from non-governmental organisations would like to see the text of the first draft until the end of 2019, ideally already by October, which would give delegates time to review the different positions and prepare their statements. But rather than repeating what happened in IGC 3 – namely coming together to highlight the important issues for their own countries – IGC 4 is expected to focus on compromise of statements. Some delegates suggested to have meetings within their regions and prepare proposals already in advance of the conference. This would allow for discussions prior to IGC 4 and enable a steep start into negotiations when they get back together in March 2020.

But an equitable and fair outcome of this agreement will be hard to negotiate if limited capacity to participate, as well as to fully grasp the content of the negotiations is not guaranteed for all states. While there are some delegations with over 10 representatives, some states have no representation at all. Will this instrument be able to universally reflect the common grounds of all states even if they are disproportionately represented, and with diverse expertise and experiences? The trust fund offers the possibility to sponsor delegates from developing countries, however is highly reliant on voluntary contributions by states, intergovernmental organisations and private persons. This IGC, financial resources in the fund only allowed for five delegates from developing countries to attend the conference while others were left without funding and hence without voice, unless their position could be represented by a group of states they aligned with.

Hope was gained back, when delegations – which had the previous two weeks been insisting on their own interests – reflected the need for cooperation in their closing statements. President Rena Lee looked up to the window where curious visitors watch the negotiations from time to time and shared: “I wonder what they are thinking about us”, reminding the delegates of their important mandate. There seemed to be the realisation that “we are living in a common world and are sailing in a single sea”[10] and that while our “common canoe gets more and more vulnerable, we need to paddle even faster”[11].

Sunset over the third Intergovernmental Conference



[1] ENB Report Vol. 25 No.218, Sep 2, p. 22, retrieved from:

[2] Ibid. p.10.

[3] Ibid. p, 16

[4] ENB Report, 27th August 2019, Vol 25 No.214, p.2, retrieved from:

[5] ENB Report, 28th August, Vol 25 No 215, p.2, retrieved from:

[6] ENB Report Vol. 25 No.218, Sep 2, p. 2, retrieved from:

[7] Ibid. p.5

[8] BBNJ ICG 3, Closing Statement of Paraguay on behalf of AOSIS, retrieved from:

[9] Delegate of Japan, BBNJ IGC 3, Closing Statements, 30th August, 3.45pm

[10] Delegate of the Philippines, BBNJ IGC3, Closing statements, 30th August 4.11pm

[11] IUCN, BBNJ IGC 3, Closing statements, 30th August, 4.30pm




Setting the stage for the common heritage of humankind principle: Diving into further negotiations on a new marine biodiversity treaty

Between August 19th and August 31st, the UN headquarters in New York host the third intergovernmental conference (IGC 3) on an international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The MARIPOLDATA team is using this opportunity to observe and analyze the negotiations and conduct interviews with delegates from State Parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including scientists. These are the impressions of the first week of negotiations.

In the previous conferences, the delegations exchanged views on the four items of the draft agreement: marine genetic resources (MGRs), area-based management tools (ABMTs), including marine protected areas (MPAs), environmental impact assessments (EIAs), capacity building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TT), as well as on cross-cutting issues such as the institutional set-up and the relation of the new treaty to other existing sectoral or regional regimes that currently govern the oceans. On the basis of this exchange of opinions, the presidency circulated a President’s Aid for negotiations at IGC 2, which forms the basis for a  zero draft document.  For the first time since the initiation of the BBNJ process there is a document containing treaty language.

A whale installation in the entrance of the UN building draws attention to the BBNJ negotiations

Here at IGC 3, the negotiations have entered into a decisive phase, in which delegations need to negotiate and compromise on the individual provisions of the treaty. To set the scene for crucial days of negotiations, Greenpeace, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) collaborated to install a large figure of a whale erupting from a sea of plastic trash on the UN terrace and the High Seas Alliance together with the Turkish Marine Research Foundation installed a photographic exhibition to increase awareness for marine conservation.

Exhibition in the hallways of the conference rooms portraying pictures of the marine environment

A beautiful morning together

The plenary hall

During the first days, the delegations started discussing the topics of CB&TT and ABMTs and cross-cutting issues. The good and collegial atmosphere that existed between the delegates during IGC 2 was successfully carried over to IGC 3, particularly when the delegate from the Federated States of Micronesia welcomed the facilitator of the informal working group on area-based management tools with the words: “We thank you for bringing ABMT to us – another beautiful morning together”.

Regardless of the friendly atmosphere, negotiators were ready to go directly to the heart of matters. When the countries delivered their opening statements for the upcoming session, representatives of delegations and observers from NGOs, IGOs and many regional seas or fisheries organizations filled all seats of the plenary hall.

It became clear that not only the good atmosphere but also the substantial disagreements were carried straight from IGC 2 to IGC 3 and directly addressed in the opening statements. Palestine, on behalf of the group of the G77 and China, representing 134 countries, as well as the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) strongly voiced the demand to the see the principle of “common heritage of mankind” in the treaty text and also Algeria on behalf of the African Group representing 54 African states noted that the principle is absent but that the spirit is sometimes present. This principle, which already in the conferences building up to the third IGC was identified as possibly one of the key issues of contention, had surprisingly been taken out of the zero draft text.

Disagreement also emerged in discussions on Article 3, concerning the paragraph dealing with exceptions for state vessels and warships. Some countries argued that this should not be questioned, as it falls under the freedom of the seas under UNCLOS. Others raised the concern that state vessels could engage in marine research and make use of marine genetic resources. This would be a problem if the agreement wants to guarantee equitable and fair benefit sharing of resources. Furthermore, the debate whether the instrument should refer to the precautionary principle or a precautionary approach remained without agreement at the end of the week. States also raised concerns regarding the lack of common definitions for a number of matters such as criteria for area-based management tools.

Informally negotiating in “informal informals” and restrictions for NGOs

The third IGC introduced to the conference a new negotiation format. In “informal informals” states can now debate and negotiate more informally than in discussions in the working groups and the plenary, and without the presence of the media and the ENB reporters. The presidency hopes that in this way, the delegates can respond to and address issues much more directly.

In order to still ensure a level of transparency, the NGO sector was allocated a total number of five seats which have to be shared by all participating NGOs. The fact that NGOs were granted – albeit limited – access to informal informals, was perceived as a very NGO-friendly policy and a large step towards transparent policy-making. However, they would not be able to intervene in this setting and due to limited capacity in the conference room, the more than 40 NGOs needed to decide amongst one another, who could sit in the informal negotiations. In order to coordinate between themselves which NGO – according to its specific interest and expertise – can sit in which informal informals session, a daily NGO meeting was set up each morning before the negotiations.

Apart from the discussions in the plenary and the informal informals, a variety of closed coordination meetings, bilateral and multilateral discussions took place throughout the week in which delegates could exchange views and discuss key issues amongst a smaller group.

Awakening the “Regime Complex”

The relationship of the evolving BBNJ instrument to other existing sectoral and regional bodies established under the UN system such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) or Regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) was a prominent topic during the first week. The treaty that is being developed possibly affects all areas of the world´s ocean and different topics of international politics such as fishing, mining, shipping, communication through the use of deep sea cables, deep sea exploration and scientific cooperation.

Because the potential reach is global and many areas are governed by different and already existing bodies, the question of how to relate a new treaty to the existing frameworks is a crucial one. A new treaty will not exist independently of other international regimes and will eventually function within a regime complex where negotiators fear to create a structure that is contradictory, duplicative and where different bodies compete with each other for competences.

This fear could clearly be observed in the discussions on different parts of the draft text. Concerning the issue of capacity building and the transfer of marine technology, many states noted that various initiatives through which states assist each other in building capacity in marine research already exist. When addressing area-based management tools such as marine protected areas, the negotiators also noted that different institutions already have different systems to identify and designate areas for protective purposes.

A lot of reference was made to the so-called EBSA process under the hospices of the CBD which gives a scientific recommendation to identify ecologically or significant marine areas. Different regional seas and fisheries organizations such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) also already have a system in place, through which certain areas are put under protection by member states of these agreements.

The question now is: What will happen to these existing marine protected areas when other or similar areas are established globally under the new treaty? It was thus not surprising to observe that a large number of existing organizations are present at the negotiations and a number of side events were organized on the topic of inter- institutional cooperation.

How much science in BBNJ?

Reference to the importance of best available science and knowledge in the BBNJ process was repeatedly made by delegates in the first week, as well as presenters at side events. New technologies based on satellite images and environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used to track species and provide information on the establishment of marine protected areas, and potentially to scan the sea-floor for DNA of undiscovered marine genetic resources. Various side events highlighted the importance of science for the BBNJ process. The FAO side event on multi-institutional collaboration in ABNJ gave an overview of existing capacity building initiatives and North-South collaborations. The CBD and the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative emphasized the need for new science for the management of area-based management tools in ABNJ.

There seemed to be general agreement on the wording scientific “body”, over scientific “network”, however, no agreement on the role of such a scientific body and its competences. Various states highlighted the importance of a scientific body as an advisory body for states, however, neither with a mandate to identify and establish ABMTs, nor to initiate or conduct EIAs. The room largely agreed that this responsibility should remain with states. Many countries, including Belize, Tuvalu, Fiji, Micronesia and Myanmar highlighted the significance of other forms of knowledge such as traditional and indigenous knowledge to contribute to an effective implementation agreement – a contribution that was welcomed by a number of other states throughout the week and raised in regard to all the different articles of the draft agreement.

Regardless of the progress made so far, much work remains to be done in the second week. Unresolved disagreements will need to be compromised by state delegations in order to find a common ground for the new instrument. The work on certain specifics of all four elements of the agreement will need to be discussed and informal informals are again scheduled throughout the week, apart from the plenary and working group sessions. On the weekend, delegates showed great interest for workshops on MGRs and the science-policy interface in the BBNJ process, where policy-makers and scientists could clarify scientific definitions and identify the process of current pre- and post-cruise data sharing.

At the end of the day, the stakeholders left with a more aligned understanding of the implications of the instrument, however, it also showed that science and policy still talk different languages and there is the need for further exchange.

We are now looking forward to another IGC3 week, hoping that we will get one step closer to finding common ground on the key elements of the BBNJ treaty to conserve and sustainably manage marine biodiversity and ideally, text on how to address and reduce the unequal distribution of marine science, resources and data infrastructures.

This article has been written by Arne Langlet and Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki.







Lima invites the world to discuss managing the commons

The 17th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) from the 1st to the 5th of July at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima brought together academics, practitioners and policy makers from almost 50 countries to discuss challenges, innovation and current research for the commons. Over 500 presenters shared their work from different academic disciplines. The conference highlighted the importance of the protection of the oceans as a global common and the need for dialogue between different knowledge systems. It provided an opportunity to present the research I had worked on proposing a design for a potential Plastics Treaty to eliminate marine plastic pollution.

Commons, or public goods, are defined as goods that are collectively owned by a certain group or entirely shared. This includes services to the population provided by the State, such as roads and public internet, as well as the natural environment with commonly shared land or water resources. Some of these goods are global and therefore have a particular importance. Global commons benefit all – including current and future generations – and their overexploitation in one part of the world has effects on a global level. The protection of global commons is therefore only possible with international cooperation. Examples of global commons are the atmosphere, space and our ocean.

Throughout the week, topics of the conference sessions included local and global commons, theories and history of the commons, gender balance in commons management, conflicts regarding land use between different groups and stakeholders, as well as urban commons and behavioural experiments regarding conservation practices. Various panels, multi-stakeholder dialogues, poster sessions and book presentations offered an opportunity for the participants to present and reflect on own research, exchange views with peers and develop new ideas for future projects. Regional meetings connected researchers from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia and encouraged further exchange and collaboration across disciplines and methodological approaches between the continents. Professional translators provided simultaneous translations in the sessions held in English and Spanish. Some discussions allowed for exchange in indigenous languages.

The conference was guided by the sense that common goods cannot be managed with a sole focus on natural science, but also need to include social and cultural dimensions. The multi-stakeholder dialogue “Negotiating a way towards consilience in managing conflicts over commons” initiated discussions among the participants to identify barriers to negotiation, namely that relations, values and needs often remain overlooked. It was also noted that identity, historical mistrust and fear of change can prevent stakeholders from coming together. In the Panel “Theory of the Commons” Yara Al Salman, PhD candidate at the Ethics Institute of Utrecht University, evaluated institutions from a moral perspective using a political philosophy approach and the theory of fair power allocation. She approached the question what people should have control over, arguing that there needs to be internal democracy, all users need to be included and exclusion has to be justified, without being the product of inequality in power or economic injustice.

One of the conference highlights was the ceremony for the Elinor Ostrom Award to acknowledge the work of practitioners, young and senior scholars involved in the field of the commons. Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) promoted a paradigm shift in political science and economics by challenging the “Tragedy of the Commons” – the vision that self-interested individuals strive for benefit maximisation with the outcome of depleting the commons. In her work “Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990)”, she developed design principles on how to sustainably manage commons and demonstrated that cooperation is indeed possible, leading to sustainable handling of the commons, without the need for regulation by central authorities or privatization.

The conference connected science with art, recognising the importance of imagination and sensitivity of all the senses to promote mobilisation for the protection of the commons. Throughout the week, participants could attend the Ostrom film festival screenings, including documentaries and short films. The documentary “Pacificum” portrayed Peruvian settlers’ ancient relationship of respect and devotion to the marine environment, as well as the evolutionary history of our oceans. We will show this documentary as part of the MARIPOLDATA cinema.

The Ocean as a global common

Fiorenza Micheli on the social-ecological vulnerability and adaptation to a changing ocean

On day one of the conference, Keynote speaker Fiorenza Micheli, marine ecologist and conservation biologist from the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University and the Center for Ocean Solutions, drew attention to the importance of our oceans as a global common. She gave a talk on the social-ecological vulnerability and adaptation to a changing ocean. Emphasizing the challenges of overfishing, ocean acidification, pollution and extraction affecting our oceans, she quoted Lubchenco and Gaines (2019) that “now is the moment for more scientists to pivot from simply documenting the tragedy underway to also creating scalable solutions”. She reminded of the importance of our oceans for food production and nutrient security, suggesting that examples of successful solutions can foster positive change. In the questions and answers after her talk, her advice to Early Researchers was: “Collaborate a lot and early and be curious”. She stressed the need for interdisciplinary collaboration, incorporating multiple disciplines and methods. Micheli called for action regarding the problem of marine plastic pollution, indicated however, that there are further challenges facing our oceans which are not as visible, such as ocean acidification.



The following days of the conference also offered room for exchange on sustainable handling of our oceans. The panel “Global Commons” provided an opportunity for me to present my research on a potential design of a Global Plastics Treaty to eliminate marine plastic pollution. Current efforts to eliminate marine plastic pollution have failed so far and an internationally legally binding agreement has the potential to overcome current governance gaps. But what needs to be considered when drafting such a treaty? My master thesis was developed into the article “Plastics at Sea: Treaty design for a global solution to marine plastic pollution, co-authored with Philippe Le Billon, Professor at the University of British Columbia. The main arguments of the paper are the importance of including a) the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities; b) an adequate scope considering land-and sea-based sources, as well as chemical additives and all stages of the lifecycle of plastics; c) issue-linkage to international plastics trade; d) a financial mechanism to support implementation measures; e) built-in flexibility to adapt to changes; f) effective monitoring, reporting and review procedures; and g) enforcement through incentivising compliance and deterring non-compliance. The audience showed great interest in the topic and raised the idea to direct this research to stakeholders in order to help its way to implementation.

Chair of the panel on Global Commons, Achim Schlüter, Professor for Social Systems and Ecological Economics, from the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany, presented on the privatisation of the oceans, including resources, space, governance and knowledge. Actors differ in their interests and needs and act within existing power asymmetries. As motivations and drivers of such privatisation, he named overexploitation, excludability and rivalry problems, blue growth, the creation of new products and innovation incentives. Distribution efforts, however, risk excluding the ones who need it the most from the use of space and resources and key knowledge that allows for high profits could exclude the most vulnerable. Questions regarding the access to and exploitation of resources and ocean space are also the central issues that the BBNJ treaty aims to address. It can be seen that there are substantial overlaps between the challenges and opportunities of commons management in coastal areas and in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

Conference participants in the multi-stakeholder dialogue with indigenous people

Indigenous knowledge for the protection of the commons

The importance of indigenous, traditional and local knowledge in protecting the commons was emphasised throughout the conference with several sessions, presentations, multi-stakeholder dialogues, movies and key notes. Examples of indigenous knowledge systems and science collaborations, the role of the communities in managing commons, as well as their relationship to Mother Earth shed light on the diversity of knowledge. The multi-stakeholder dialogue “How can indigenous governance models, such as Plan de Vida, help protect the commons at a time of global environmental crises?” brought conference participants in exchange with Gil Inoach (Awajún CORPI-SL), Wrays Perez (Wampis Autonomous Territorial Government) and Julio Cusurichi (Shipibo-FENAMAD), Liliana Pechene and Jeremias Tunubala (Misak local community activists and Plan de Vida practitioners).

In the session “Polycentric Governance and Cultural Resources”, Sibyl Diver from Stanford University presented on indigenous science in water governance. While indigenous knowledge is often referred to as an “alternative form of science”, she studies indigenous communities forming science networks in the Klamath River Basin, US. To understand how indigenous knowledge is increasingly included in policy making on the local and international level is helpful for the MARIPOLDATA project, regarding references to traditional and indigenous knowledge in the BBNJ negotiations. The presentation of Roger Merino, Research Professor of Public Policy and Legal Theory at the Universidad del Pacífico, in the session “Indigenous people and multilevel governance” opened some further questions: Are policy makers willing to include indigenous and traditional knowledge into current frameworks or is the reference to indigenous knowledge simply a form of legitimisation for own policy objectives?

While the majority of sessions focused on commons on the local and regional level, much can be transferred to the case of the oceans as a global common. Conflicts over access to resources, the interdependency of different stakeholders, a moral responsibility to take into account the existence of future generations and differing concepts of knowledge to manage the commons are prevalent in cases of local commons, as much as in the BBNJ negotiations. How the stakeholders with their different capacities will account for the diverse knowledge systems to be included in the negotiations will be central for the outcome of a BBNJ agreement.







Off to a great start

On the 21st of May, MARIPOLDATA had its project launch. The event was open to the public and attracted over 50 people from academia, ministries and non-governmental organisations. Dr. Julien Rochette from the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) shared his expertise on ocean governance and highlighted the need for a new legal framework to account for updates in ocean science and the integration of new scientific findings to protect our ocean. Before the event, a workshop with Dr. Julien Rochette was an opportunity for the MARIPOLDATA team to exchange experiences and ideas on how to study science-policy interrelations in marine biodiversity politics.  

Expert-Workshop with Dr Julien Rochette (IDDRI)

Workshop: Julien Rochette (IDDRI), Petro Tolochko, Arne Langlet, Alice Vadrot (MARIPOLDATA)

The day of the kick-off started with a workshop with Dr. Julien Rochette, from the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). He is coordinating a team specialised in ocean governance on the regional level. For the MARIPOLDATA team, this was a great opportunity to reflect on first observations from the BBNJ negotiations in April, discuss concepts, ideas and current issues related to the EBSAs (Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas), develop ideas on how to conceptualise and understand the role of science in international relations, as well as exchange experiences on which methodology to use to understand the field of marine biodiversity research.

Throughout the day, the discussions ranged from broad concepts and framings of marine biodiversity data to specific methodological approaches. The workshop posed important questions, some of which the MARIPOLDATA team will dedicate themselves to in the process of the project: How does science influence international relations and in particular, the negotiations regarding marine biodiversity? Who are the scientists and which avenues do they use to communicate their findings? What is the role of scientists – are they supposed to exclusively provide scientific data, or is their responsibility also the interpretation of their results, policy recommendation and implementation, or even decision-making? What do we mean by scientific data? And what do we know about indigenous and local knowledge and how does this play a role when it comes to marine biodiversity protection? What data is relevant in international attempts to protect marine biodiversity and how can this data be communicated, governed and shared?  These and many other questions will be relevant in the work of MARIPOLDATA.

The Project Launch

A diverse audience attending the Kick-Off presentations


In the evening, the project was presented to a diverse audience of ministry representatives, NGOs, different university departments and research institutes, including different disciplines of social and natural sciences. The aim was to introduce MARIPOLDATA research aims and objectives and to reach out to a future network.

Not only the audience came from a wide variety of academic backgrounds and institutions – but also the event’s speakers:



Hajo Boomgarden giving the Welcome Address



In the welcome address, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Hajo Boomgarden (Dean of the Faculty of Social Science) emphasised the relevance and importance of MARIPOLDATAs research and highlighted that the project has great potential in conducting ground-breaking research through the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods within an interdisciplinary team on a very current topic in which research is lacking. This project is an example of why social sciences research is important to address environmental problems and contribute to issues that seem to exclusively be of technical nature.


Barbara Prainsack at her presentation on the global commons



Our ocean constitutes one of the global commons, as they can only be governed with cooperation among all states. Univ. Prof. Dr. Barbara Prainsack (Deputy Head of the Department of Political Science) provided the audience with an overview of the history of global commons. She gave an introduction of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin) and ended on the positive note that not all human behaviour is self-interested and that international cooperation for the protection of global commons is possible (Ostrom). And indeed, international cooperation will be needed in the negotiations of the new legally binding treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), for the global commons to be protected.





Julien Rochette presenting on the evolution of ocean governance

Currently, human activities impacting the health of our ocean threaten the global commons. Dr. Julien Rochette (IDDRI) presented the challenges our ocean faces, including plastic pollution, tourism on coastlines, deep seabed mining, over-fishing and ocean acidification. Increasing efforts to protect the ocean are underway through a complex ocean governance framework, including overarching UN Sustainability Development Goals, various UN bodies, sectoral and regional conventions, as well regional fisheries organisations. After mapping the fragmented ocean governance framework, he highlighted the main challenge is implementation. There is the need to protect “the neglected half of our planet”, referring to the High Seas, as they make up 45% of the Earth’s surface and 64% of the world’s oceans. Various instruments already exist to protect the ocean, however, provisions of the law of the sea were developed on the basis of a little understanding of marine biodiversity in the deep sea and the open ocean. How can a global instrument that was developed in a time when we thought of the sea-floor as a desert account for protecting the incredible marine biodiversity and ecosystems we now know exist? There is the need for a new legal framework that accounts for the updated ocean science and simultaneously acknowledges that there are still many unknowns and data gaps that need to be filled. He further argues that “we need to connect the dots” and therefore understand that the ocean governance framework on its own is not sufficient but requires to be anchored to other conventions, such as conventions on climate change (COP) and biodiversity (CBD).

The lack of scientific knowledge to fully understand the deep sea and marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (ABNJ) was also highlighted by Julie Rigaud from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, who joined the kick-off event with a video message. She presented on the role of the UN decade in the science-policy interface and emphasised the need for ocean science and data collection and sharing and how current UN goals seek to develop knowledge, build infrastructures and foster partnerships.

Alice Vadrot presenting MARIPOLDATA

Ass.-Prof. Dr. Alice Vadrot has always had the ambition to understand this relationship between science, policy and politics. Her idea for the research project MARIPOLDATA now makes it possible to investigate this question by analysing ongoing negotiations for marine biodiversity protection. MARIPOLDATA is important for progressing international politics and marine biodiversity protection because it addresses challenges and opportunities of the science-policy interface, new technological developments, digital infrastructures and data sharing. Combining global perspectives with regional and local needs and acknowledging global inequalities related to science and data infrastructures makes the research project unique and highly relevant in understanding new power relations in world politics. The project aims to innovate methodologies and concepts for studying the role of science in ocean politics and to create networks between scientists, policy makers and practitioners.

In the following years of the project, the MARIPOLDATA team: Post-Doc Petro Tolochko, the two PhD students Arne Langlet and Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki, and the Research Administrator Emmanuelle Brogat will support her in answering the questions: How are negotiations shaped by science? What is the science that shapes the negotiations? How does scientific capability shape negotiating positions?


The new MARIPOLDATA team

The project includes an investigation of the emergence of BBNJ, an analysis of marine biodiversity expertise, an examination of marine biodiversity data in international politics and a comparison of different national and regional case studies. MARIPOLDATA’s aim is to identify how governments use and contest scientific and technical knowledge, to conceptualise new forms of power in international politics and to analyse inequalities related to the distribution of scientific and technical knowledge and their influence on governments’ positions in international negotiations. This will identify the interaction between science, politics and policy and transform our understanding of the role of data and monitoring in governing the ocean.

Considering the diverse group of people from different academic fields, it was no surprise that the presentations were followed by a wave of interesting questions and comments from the audience, including general questions on approaches to the project and specific questions on the methodology of the case studies. One attendee raised the question whether international law was a focus area of the project. While being closely linked to international law through the analysis of the intergovernmental negotiations at the United Nations, research will not be conducted through the lens of international law. Regarding the EU case study, the official EU position in the negotiations will be important, as well as EU-wide systems for marine biodiversity monitoring and data collection.

After the round of questions and answers, the venue turned into a space for dialogue between lawyers, marine biologists, policy makers, university professors, social scientists, diplomats and environmental activists from various countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Brazil, Mexico, and the US. The event was held in English, but it did not take long for other languages to be heard over the vegetarian buffet. This event was more than simply a kick-off for a new research project – it was an evening of exchange of ideas and already the beginning of new collaborations in scientific research and the protection of marine biodiversity and our ocean.


MARIPOLDATA Team: Emmanuelle Brogat, Petro Tolochko, Alice Vadrot, Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki, Arne Langlet




Impressions from the second week of BBNJ negotiations and why they became political in the end

From March 25 to April 5, governments met at the UN Headquarters in New York to further advance negotiations on a new legally binding instrument to protect and sustainably use marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). It is expected that by 2020, governments would agree on establishing a new treaty covering four central issues, which are currently not sufficiently regulated under existing maritime law: 1) Marine Genetics Resources (MGR), 2) Area-based Management Tools (AMBTs) as well as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), 3) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and 4) Capacity Building and Marine Technology Transfer (CB&MTT).

While the overall objective of the treaty is to create a framework to conserve and protect BBNJ, it also carries the potential to act as a vehicle to close substantial gaps between developed and developing countries in exploring and exploiting the oceans. During the first week of negotiations, we observed discrepancies between governments as wide ranging as if the principle of “Common heritage of mankind” should be applied to marine biodiversity in ABNJ or not (see MARIPOLDATA blog from 1st of April). In the following, we will give an account of the second week of negotiations, in which we participated as observers and as part of the delegation of the International Studies Association (ISA).

The second week of negotiations

The second week started off where the first week had ended: with agenda item three Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and the idea that some kind of assessment of potentially harmful effects on the health of marine ecosystems and of marine biodiversity should be undertaken before a state or a company may explore, exploit or pursue any activity in ABNJ. The essence of this agenda item tackles “who” is entitled or obliged to undertake “what” kind of assessment, “how” and based on what criteria. Because an EIA would cover areas that are not under the responsibility of a nation state but may be located in close proximity to the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and national territories of a coastal state, tensions emerged as to who will conduct environmental impact assessments, how and on what.

Arne Langlet and Alice Vadrot during the 2nd week of negotiations

The potential role of a scientific body

The views of governments on the “who” question, mainly differed in relation to whether it should be a state-driven or a science-driven process. Many governments wished to retain the decision-making power to initiate and conduct EIAs to states themselves; others preferred creating a scientific body, which would receive the authority to independently perform these tasks. Some national delegations, particularly from the group of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) emphasized the concept of adjacency in this context. While adjacency was until now understood as the geographical proximity of a state´s EEZ to the area beyond national jurisdiction which is to be managed, PSIDS argued that, it should not only be understood in terms of geographical, but also ecological proximity. They justified their claim by referring to the concept of “ecological connectivity”.

“Ecological connectivity” can be defined as “a complex natural phenomenon linking various components of marine ecosystems in time and space” (IIED 2019). According to the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) “ecological connectivity” between ABNJ and coastal waters occurs via two distinct processes: (1) passive circulation-driven connectivity and (2) migratory connectivity” (ibid). It must be noted that such a definition – although widely accepted in the academic realm – is not yet in the BBNJ draft.

“Fish do not have passports”

While the understanding that animals and water masses in the ocean move and connect large parts of the planet may not sound particularly surprising, it does bring substantial difficulties for the governance of marine biodiversity in ABNJ. It is through side events, organized by NGOs, scientific communities and other stakeholders, that such debates are addressed and discussed in the framework of the BBNJ process. For example, “ecological connectivity” was addressed in more depth during a side event hosted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). According to Ekaterina Popova from the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton UK, “ecological connectivity” is a rapidly developing research area, which highlights many aspects that should be considered by policymakers.

Understanding and acknowledging the effects of “ecological connectivity” in this way comes with consequences and questions for policymaking. How should states conserve a population of migratory species that directly crosses the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of a large number of countries as well as areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ)? This issue was discussed in a side event hosted by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-WCMC). At this occasion Daniel Dunn from Duke University and Steven Fletcher from UNEP- WCMC introduced “Mico”, a platform allowing scientists to jointly investigate migratory connectivity and make this information accessible to everyone. Such research efforts have shown that fish stocks of high seas and in EEZs are interconnected, or as one delegate put it: “fish do not have passports”.

A redistribution of responsibility?

While recognizing “ecological connectivity” in the BBNJ process would significantly increase the scientific credibility and evidence base of a new treaty, it also comes with important consequences for how the responsibilities and duties of states would be distributed. If “ecological connectivity” is included in the instrument, adjacent states would for example play a particular role in assessing impacts of activities in ABNJ, because their EEZs and coastal zones are particularly affected by them, for the good and the bad.

Activity or Impact Based?

The concept of “ecological connectivity” was not only mentioned in the discussion about “who” should be in charge of EIAs but also played a particularly crucial role regarding questions on “what” should be assessed. The room was divided between governments that prefer an activity-based approach – evaluating which activities in ABNJs are harmful to the environment – and an impact-based approach, which would evaluate the potential impacts of any activity on the environment. Assuming that an EIA would be conducted following the impact-based approach and under full recognition of “ecological connectivity”, the regulations for pursuing economic activities on the high seas would become potentially much stricter. In such a case, the state or company would have to demonstrate that the proposed activity would not only be harmless to the area where it will be conducted, but possibly also to all connected species in national waters. In such a case, adjacent states, whose EEZ might be particularly affected would be given a special role in conducting such environmental assessments.

What is the legitimate knowledge to assess the state of our oceans?

Almost all states agreed that environmental impact assessments should be based on the “best available science”. However, there was less agreement if, and if yes to what extent EIAs should rest upon a fixed set of internationally agreed and globally applicable criteria. Should there be a minimum standard for EIAs or a flexible framework to account for already existing regional or national best practices? Or should the opportunity of a new global treaty be used to formulate ambitious criteria to be applied to all EIA on BBNJ? A list of content-requirements for EIA was part of the negotiated text, but could not be agreed upon. While some states argued for a rather thin outline, other governments- specifically from the global south- proposed to include many specific content-requirements such as socioeconomic impacts and the description of alternatives to the proposed activity. Some developing states also highlighted that “best available science” and shared criteria for EIAs also imply that the new treaty should recognize the need of developing countries to be empowered to contribute to the production of ocean science considered for EIAs, especially, if they are based on a specific set of internationally agreed ambitious criteria. Otherwise, many countries would be limited in their contributions to developing a shared scientific knowledge base for EIAs.

This brings us to the question of what counts as legitimate knowledge on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. Many governments from the global south, specifically from the group of the like-minded Latin American countries and the Pacific Small Island Developing States argued that traditional knowledge should be equally recognized and integrated into EIA. They highlighted the fact that local and indigenous communities living in coastal areas have developed extensive knowledge on marine biodiversity, because of their dependence on ocean ecosystems and the practices they have developed to live with and from the ocean. They hold knowledge on species diversity and other characteristics of oceans ecosystems, which has been passed from generation to generation over centuries and which therefore should be included into the body of knowledge relevant to EIAs. Those governments that supported the inclusion of TK also argued that what scientists describe by using the term “ecological connectivity” is at the core of what local and indigenous people have experienced and captured with the notion of  interconnectivity for a long time: the relation between humankind and the ocean.

Whilst there was agreement that traditional knowledge should not substitute, but complement modern science, governments had different views on how to bridge the gap between those that have advanced scientific and technical infrastructures to conduct ocean science in ABNJ and those that have not.

Capacity building or how to close technology gaps between states

Capacity building and marine technology transfer (CB & MTT) constitute key pillars of the future treaty, particularly from the perspective of developing countries. The distribution of capabilities among states to conduct scientific research in the open ocean are unequally distributed around the globe. Only a few nations such as for example the US, Japan, Australia, Canada and members of the European Union (EU) have established the necessary scientific and technological infrastructures enabling them to systematically study ABNJ and the deep sea. There are no regulations in place, which would limit access to BBNJ for scientific purposes, despite the fact that access is inseparably linked to the capacities to conduct science in these areas. According to many developing states, capacity building should be linked to questions of access in order to account for technology gaps and an unjust distribution of scientific capability. This is also why

Full Room on Wednesday April 3rd for the discussion on Institutional Settingss

developing states support the idea to include the “common heritage of mankind” into the text of the new instrument, because it would support the idea of mandatory and monetary forms of capacity building, which could account for a distribution of benefits resulting from marine scientific research on BBNJ. In contrast, many developed states preferred non-monetary forms of capacity building such as through the sharing of information on research cruises activities and of specific oceanographic data. The views on what falls under capacity building, how detailed the list of tasks should be and how such processes would look like in practice differed significantly and remain to be discussed at the next BBNJ negotiations in August.

How to institutionalize the new treaty

After governments addressed the four packages of the new treaty, they turned to issues related to the implementation and design of the new instrument, including its decision-making body, the establishment of a scientific advisory body and other matters related to the way in which the future treaty should operate. Many governments pointed to the fact that such issues can only be addressed if the content of the treaty is agreed and that duplication with other existing treaties and instruments should be avoided. Nevertheless, some governments showed more willingness to establish a robust and all-encompassing institutional setting than others. While Russia, the US and Japan opted for minimalistic arrangements, many developing states refereed to (elements of) the United National Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as potential role models for the new treaty.

Why negotiations became political towards the end

The second intergovernmental session came slowly to an end. Governments expressed the wish to receive some kind of zero draft containing all options for which there was support during the two weeks of negations as a basis for the third intergovernmental session in August this year. Negotiations started and ended with a very positive atmosphere and despite many divergent views on a number of issues delegates and chairs kept a positive attitude, which everybody present in the room could sense.

The positive spirit was, however reversed abruptly, when a delegate from the EU took the floor on a rather formal and – at the first glance- less contentious issue introduced by the president of the negotiations towards the end: the credentials of governments, which took part in the negotiations. The delegate from the EU started her intervention by questioning the credentials of Venezuela. The room was silent, and delegates were looking at each other seemingly anticipating the reactions that this statement would cause. The delegate of the EU continued and pointed to the current situation in Venezuela, the disputed presidency of Nicolás Maduro and the EU´s support for Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez, who is recognized as acting President of Venezuela by 54 governments. Under these circumstances, the Venezuelan participation in these negotiations would not be legitimate. A cascade of interventions from Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua followed, sharply criticizing the EU for its statement, which would destroy the positive spirit of the BBNJ negotiations and the consensus-oriented process between governments so far. The EU`s statement would contradict the UN principles and the sovereignty of states, which forms a baseline for multilateralism, which the EU would perpetuate by questioning Venezuela’s credentials. It was the first time during the two weeks that Venezuela took the floor in the negotiations, pointing to the sovereignty of its country and the democratic legitimacy of its president. The EU delegate, which made the intervention, was shaking and the tension in the room was remarkable. Subsequently Peru made a statement on behalf of several Latin American countries, Canada, the Czech Republic and other governments proposing that credentials should be accepted, but that these countries share concerns over developments in Venezuela and the legitimacy of Maduro. The president proposed to accept Venezuelan credentials and the issue on credentials was thereafter closed.

While the tensions regarding Venezuela’s credentials came as a surprise for most observers, they unpleasantly reminded us that multilateralism is fragile and symbolic power not as symbolic as one would wish.

This article has been written by Alice Vadrot and Arne Langlet