Created: Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Ad Hoc Open Ended Informal Working Group
to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ)
19- 23 August 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we begin our deliberations at this year’s Session of the UN Ad hoc Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, we are confronted with the challenge of determining our future direction and responding appropriately. Delegations, through the previous discussions, five of them, since its establishment in 2004, and the two workshops held in May this year, have acquired a significant understanding of the subject. Of course, gaps remain but what we know now is extensive. We will have to decide where we will head from here.
Paragraph 162 of the outcome document of Rio+20 stated “We commit to address, on an urgent basis, the issue of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” It is clear that the international community considered the need to address the issue of the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction to be an urgent priority. Likewise world leaders committed themselves to take a decision to develop an international instrument before the end of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. In other words, no later than September 2015. The outcome document “The Future We Want” called for action on an urgent basis. We also have before us the guidance provided by GA Resolution 67/78 of 12 December 2012. We have also the proposal circulated by the EU.
We held two workshops in May to clarify issues pertinent to our deliberations. You will recall that the first workshop focused on marine genetic resources, which had for a longtime been little understood due to obvious technical challenges. For example, organisms associated with hydrothermal vents, organisms found in cold-water coral reefs, deep water sponges and other such life forms. Another example, open ocean bacteria, are still to be studied in depth and may have the potential for yielding drugs, including for cancer. It is estimated that there are 10 to 100 billion organisms per liter of sea water. It has been suggested that this vast trove of little studied organisms may provide the genetic resource base to develop new products of value to the pharmaceutical industry that will benefit humanity. The challenge, however, would be to determine the origins of such marine genetic organisms as we explore benefit sharing in a practical manner. Already over 4,000 marine organisms in over 40,000 patent documents have been identified.
We examined questions relating to the patenting of marine genetic material, extraction processes, and possible new products. The tool for the identification of the sources of marine genetic material associated with such patents, whether from within the national jurisdiction or outside, would be part of our work.
The UN convention on the law of the sea, 1982 (UNCLOS) provides the basis for contemporary ocean governance. All issues arising with regard to marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction are not necessarily covered by it. Part XI of UNCLOS deals with the sea bed and the sub surface. UNCLOS established the concept of the “common heritage of mankind”. The question as to whether marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, would fall within this concept needs to be addressed. As we discuss marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, we must also remember the implications of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.
The second workshop focused on conservation and management tools, including area based management. Current tools and guidelines impose sectoral and regional obligations to protect resources impacted by human activity. Such activity includes navigation, cable laying, bottom trawling, marine energy exploration, sea bed mining, waste water disposal etc. These activities currently affect important fish categories, eleven of which account for 55% of the earth’s EPA and DHA fatty acid capacity, not to mention other organisms. Meanwhile it was suggested that the ocean’s capacity for producing fatty acids is limited and inadequate to sustain our growing population. The cumulative impact on marine eco systems of human activity needs to be addressed, including through marine protected areas.
While the range of challenges looms before us, the details will require careful consideration. Recognizing that marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction and their likely benefits for human wellbeing could be enormous, it is important to identify a framework for protecting and sustainably accessing these genetic resources in a manner which will both protect those who depend on them for food, leisure and employment, who invest financial resources in developing new products and those who seek to share in the benefits recognised under globally agreed norms. Issues related to the intellectual property rights will need to be addressed. Opportunities and challenges in sharing scientific research information and research results will require attention. Because the marine realm represents 70% of the biosphere, and developing countries have a distinct stake in this, it is important to address capacity building opportunities also in order to fulfil our mandate.
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