Marine biodiversity: France welcomes the conclusion of an ambitious treaty for the protection of the high seas (5 March 2023)


Joint communique issued by the ministry for Europe and Foreign affairs and the office of the minister of state for marine affairs, attached to the prime minister

France welcomes the historic agreement reached today on the Treaty on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction, i.e. on the high seas (the so-called BBNJ process), at the fifth session of intergovernmental negotiations held at United Nations headquarters in New York from 20 February to 4 March.

The oceans are one of the main reservoirs of biodiversity in the world; they are carbon sinks essential to climate regulation and therefore essential to our fight against climate disruption. They make up more than 90% of habitable space on the planet and are home to some 250,000 known species, as well as many as-yet unknown species.

A historic treaty for the protection of marine biodiversity on the high seas

A few months after an agreement was adopted at Biodiversity COP15 to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, the adoption of a treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity on the high seas is a key step towards protecting the ocean and its biodiversity and enabling its resources to be shared fairly. The purpose of the treaty is to develop a legally-binding international instrument to strengthen the governance of the high seas and establish the tools necessary for effective protection of the ocean and sustainable use of its resources.

It paves the way for some essential and unprecedented steps forward:

  • the creation of marine protected areas on the high seas;
  • obligations for States to assess the environmental impact of new activities they are planning on the high seas;
  • fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of discoveries made in the oceans which could be decisive for science, technology or medicine;
  • strengthening developing States’ capacity for scientific research and their ability to ensure good governance of marine areas.

A decisive mobilization by France to conclude the negotiations

France played an active role with the European Union (EU) throughout this negotiation process, which began more than 15 years ago, in order to maintain the necessary level of ambition. It was committed to supporting a multilateral negotiation process that led to a global, fair and enforceable agreement. As a European Union Member State, its constructive role enabled an ambitious and inclusive final compromise to be reached.

President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to protecting the oceans and marine biodiversity, in particular at the One Ocean Summit in Brest and the Ocean Conference in Lisbon in 2022, was a driving force in speeding up the fight internationally, with the creation, on France’s initiative, of the High Seas Alliance. This coalition, which now numbers 51 members, is also in line with the announcements made by France at COP27 in Egypt, in favour of a total ban on deep-sea mining.

In line with its commitment, France will therefore host the next United Nations Ocean Conference in Nice in 2025. In the run-up to this conference, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna has been mobilizing the French diplomatic network in recent months, and she promoted the issue to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the latest United Nations General Assembly. She will soon be chairing a dedicated steering committee with the ministers concerned.

The event, which France will co-chair with Costa Rica, is a focal point for supporting the movement initiated in New York and is necessary to the protection of marine biodiversity; the conclusion of the negotiations today must mark the start of a new drive for cooperation and multilateralism enabling the oceans to be preserved and protected. France will continue to play its full role with a view to achieving this goal.

On Tuesday 21 February 2023, Minister of State for Marine Affairs Hervé Berville, who went to United Nations headquarters twice during the recent negotiation sessions, also issued a formal appeal to the international community there to conclude this major treaty, alongside the actor and activist Jane Fonda, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and the NGOs in the High Seas Alliance.