The role of NGOs in negotiating the use of biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction
In 2004, the UN General Assembly resolved to establish a working group to consider issues pertaining to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The group met nine times between 2006 and 2015 before concluding its mandate by recommending the development of an international legally binding instrument on BBNJ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Based on in-depth interviews with working group participants, this research examines how NGOs contributed to the working group process. Respondents from government delegations highlighted the usefulness of workshops and side events convened by NGOs, and the role of NGOs in bringing experts on technical issues – particularly marine genetic resources and the sharing of benefits – into the BBNJ negotiations. Respondents from both NGOs and government delegations emphasized the importance of fostering personal relationships in order to ensure a steady and constructive information flow. Social media efforts by NGOs were considered by some government representatives to have occasionally hampered open discussion, although they noted that conditions have improved. The lengthy working group process was marked by substantial fluctuation in participation, particularly within government delegations from developing states. Of 1523 individuals who participated in at least one of the working group meetings, only 45 attended more than half of the meetings, and 80% of these were representing NGOs or highly industrialized countries. Respondents felt that this comparatively small number of individuals provided a source of continuity that was crucial for moving the discussions forward.