African countries that are part of the Abidjan Convention have been urged to participate and play a meaningful role in the United Nations ongoing negotiations aimed at establishing a legally binding instrument to conserve and sustainably use areas of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.
The call was made at a two-day African region workshop on Marine Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) at Cape Town, South Africa, recently.
The workshop, which was funded by the Strong High Seas project, was attended by representatives from 12 African countries.
One of the key recommendations made at the workshop was that African states have the potential to contribute meaningfully and effectively to the UN negotiations aimed at establishing the treaty, particularly if they are supported by the African Union (AU).
It was also recommended that a formal and organised process for national representatives to participate in the BBNJ Working Group for the Abidjan Convention should take place to ensure adequate benefits from the Strong High Seas project are transferred to the working group.
According to the workshop report, a broad understanding of the issues related to the BBNJ were shared with the group, as well as the structure of the draft treaty and how Africa can play a meaningful role in the negotiations.
Adanan Awad, director of the International Ocean Institute for the African Region, enlightened participants on the ecological connectivity of national waters and seas in areas beyond national jurisdictions.
He said while the worlds understanding of the areas beyond national jurisdictions has increased we still have to learn more about how activities will impact the functioning of ecosystems and how global climate is impacting ocean health.
He outlined the regulatory framework, stressing that it is often fragmentary with gaps and limited cooperation among different bodies of governance.
Caroline Hazin from Birdlife International said negotiations around the new treaty aim to fill those gaps.
She also discussed how regional seas frameworks may play a role in the governance of these areas.
Hazin said the instrument is looking at how this multi-level governance architecture can be improved and how to develop a more harmonised and effective way of managing the areas.
The workshop also observed progress of the draft UN treaty text after the third round of negotiations, as well as the history of meetings that have led to the development of the key elements being negotiated.
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These elements include marine genetic resources and area-based management tools.
Thembile Joying from South Africas Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), who has been directly involved in the negotiations in New York for several years representing the African Group, said Africa promotes the principle of common heritage of mankind related to marine genetic resources and identifies this gap in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The African Group hopes the implementing agreement will close that gap. Joying said there needs to be a legal basis and mechanism to share the benefits while capacity building is also a key issue. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly two-thirds of the ocean lies outside any countrys national jurisdiction or control, and is home to unique marine species and ecosystems.
The degradation of biodiversity in these areas affects the oceans capacity to provide resources necessary for human survival. At the conference, the executive secretary of the Abidjan Convention, Abou Bamba, said African countries can benefit from marine biodiversity located outside their areas of jurisdiction, and it is important that the continent participates meaningfully in these negotiations.
We need to be part of the process as the continent can benefit in terms of research and understanding the oceans and seas better, said Bamba.
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