Biological diversity in areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Treaty – UPSC GS3

What is the BBNJ Treaty?
  • The “BBNJ Treaty”, also known as the “Treaty of the High Seas”, is an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, currently under negotiation at the United Nations.
  • This new instrument is being developed within the framework of the UNCLOS, the main international agreement governing human activities at sea.
  • It will achieve a more holistic management of high seas activities, which should better balance the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.
  • BBNJ encompasses the high seas, beyond the exclusive economic zones or national waters of countries.
  • According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these areas account for “almost half of the Earth’s surface”.
  • These areas are hardly regulated and also least understood or explored for its biodiversity – only 1% of these areas are under protection.
  • The negotiations are centred around a package of elements agreed upon in 2015, namely:
    • the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, in particular, together and as a whole, marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits
    • area-based management tools, including marine protected areas
    • environmental impact assessments
    • capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology
What is the need of Legally Binding Instrument for BBNJ?
  • Areas beyond national jurisdiction comprise 95% of the ocean and provide invaluable ecological, economic, social, cultural, scientific and food-security benefits to humanity.
  • However, these areas teeming with life are now vulnerable to growing threats, including pollution, overexploitation, and the impacts already visible of climate change.
  • The increasing demand for marine resources in the coming decades – for food, minerals or biotechnology – threatens to exacerbate this problem.
  • The high seas are extremely biodiverse and have been exploited without even knowing its impacts.
  • While there are scientific explorations of the surface water of the high seas, the deep sea i.e. below 200 metres of the surface has hardly been studied.
  • The deep seafloors, believed to be the harshest habitat, the extinction process is setting in.
  • The 184 species (of Molluscs) assessed, 62% are listed as threatened: 39 are critically endangered, 32 are endangered and 43 are vulnerable.
  • In the Indian Ocean vents, 100% molluscs are already listed as critically endangered. This shows the urgent need to protect them from extinction. Yet, the International Seabed Authority, a Jamaica-based intergovernmental body, is allowing deep sea mining contracts.
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