6th March 2023
After decades of intense negotiations, the UN finalised on Saturday the international treaty for the protection of high seas biodiversity. Belgian shipowners applaud the historic move and congratulate the Belgian government’s active role in the development and finalisation of the agreement.
“Belgian shipping represents a wide spectrum of shipping sectors yet we are united in our belief that human activities including merchant shipping should respect the sustainability of our oceans and their marine life,” commented Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association (RBSA). “With the new treaty, we are able to protect one-third and hopefully more of our marine environment.”
As a founding member of the Blue Leaders in 2019 and a member of the EU’s BBNJ High Ambition Coalition, Belgium has been instrumental in the successful negotiations of the new treaty which calls for protected areas to be created on the high seas. This had not been possible until now, as the high seas fall outside territorial jurisdiction. With the new “Convention on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction” – BBNJ in short, 30% of the high seas will be transformed into nature reserves in which human activities are strictly regulated. These include sustainable shipping, scientific research and exploration, sustainable water tourism, and controlled fishing.
Vincent Van Quickenborne, the Belgian Minister of the North Sea said: “This is a historic treaty. A crucial step for anyone who cares about the oceans. The BBNJ is to the ocean what the 2015 Paris Agreement is to the climate. After more than 17 years of negotiations, we can finally create nature reserves on the high seas. After all, 70% of the Earth is covered by water, three-quarters of which is open sea. The high seas are crucial for sustaining life on Earth. They are the source of food and energy for millions of people, they regulate the climate and provide oxygen. Unfortunately, the oceans are threatened by pollution, overfishing, climate change and other human activities. This will now change with the development of nature reserves on the high seas.”
Zakia Khattabi, the Belgian Minister of the Climate, the Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal also commented: “I am very glad that after years of negotiations there is finally a global agreement through which we will together protect maritime biodiversity and ecosystems, which are both unique and fragile. Just like the global agreement on biodiversity concluded a few months ago at COP 15 in Montreal, this new treaty is a real game-changer in terms of protecting the oceans on a global scale! Indeed, it is urgent to do so: they are home to an enormous biodiversity, they play a crucial role as climate regulators, they are a great source of oxygen and provide food for millions of people.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries remarked: “A historic moment for our Oceans. Today marks the culmination of more than a decade of preparatory work and international negotiations in which the EU played a key role. With the agreement on the UN High Seas Treaty, we take a crucial step forward to preserve the marine life and biodiversity that are essential for us and the generations to come. It is also a proof of strengthened multilateral cooperation with our partners and a major asset to implement our COP 15 goal for 30% ocean protection. I am very proud of our outcome.”
As such, the RBSA strongly supports Belgium’s bid for a new secretariat to be set up for the treaty in the international city of Brussels, also the seat of the European Commission, the Council of the EU/European Council and NATO.
For the treaty to be ratified by 60 states and enter in to force, the separate secretariat will give the agreement more weight and manage the forthcoming demarcation of the protected marine areas, as is the case for other international conventions. As a continuation of its past efforts, Belgium as a Blue Leader will commit to capturing the first protected area as quickly as possible to kickstart the process.
The new secretariat will also manage a separate budget. The high-level call for the treaty was bolstered by the announcement of more than $100 million in funding to support the ratification and implementation of the treaty. The pledge was made possible by both private and public philanthropic institutions such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Oceans 5, among others. The European Union has pledged €40 million as part of its Global Ocean Programme.
“As a founding Blue Leader with years of active role in the negotiations of the new High Seas Treaty, Belgium’s candidature for the BBNJ Secretariat in Brussels is fully supported by the RBSA and all its members,” added Mr Lemmens.
“Belgium is a nation with a long maritime history and a thriving shipping industry with full commitment towards green shipping, it is indeed best placed to host the new Secretariat to further ensure the successful rollout of the historic agreement.”