A soft treaty, hard to reach: The second inter-governmental conference for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction

Elizabeth Mendenhall, Elizabeth De Santo, Elizabeth Nyman, Rachel Tiller

The United Nations is halfway through the scheduled negotiations for a new legally binding instrument to govern biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). This paper discusses the results of the second intergovernmental BBNJ conference, which took place March 25 – April 5, 2019, and analyzes the trends, variables, and obstacles shaping the emerging agreement. The paper considers the discussion surrounding each of the four elements of the BBNJ agenda in turn: area based management tools including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, marine genetic resources and access and benefit sharing, and capacity building and technology transfer. At the second session of negotiations, progress towards consensus on the four major elements of the BBNJ package was limited and uneven. Drawing on close observations, interviews with a variety of participants, and document analysis, we conclude that the dictum that the new BBNJ agreement “should not undermine” existing elements of the ocean governance regime serves to inhibit movement towards a consensual and effective instrument.