PIF SG statement on the resumed fifth session Intergovernmental Conference on the BBNJ process


By Henry Puna, Forum Secretary General & Pacific Ocean Commissioner

As our Pacific Forum Leaders gather this week for their Special Retreat in Nadi, Fiji, their leading officials and Oceans negotiators from our Blue Pacific region will be joining the rest of the world at the UN Headquarters in New York.

They are there to conclude negotiations for a treaty which will define the future sustainability of our Ocean—a treaty for Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ).

The process of negotiating this legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, has been challenging and arduous, lasting well over a decade. Its adoption will be a momentous occasion for humanity as, together with other agreements, it would represent a ‘whole ocean’ approach, particularly on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Negotiations were initially set to conclude by the end of last year. Unfortunately, a conclusion was not yet within reach at the last session in August 2022. However, our delegations from our Blue Pacific are engaging in this resumed session expecting nothing less than the finalisation of a legally binding instrument extending the vision of the Law of the Sea to protect all ocean life beyond our national borders.

In March 2022, I called for this treaty to be robust and ambitious. Today, I urge all nations to bring that energy and clarity to New York for the next two weeks, and to hold faith for a global, protected ocean. We must all come with clear intentions to conclude this process and to engage in good faith with solid political resolve, resourcing and commitment. It is high time we achieve not only what the world wants, but what our shared Ocean so desperately requires—legally binding closure.

As stewards of the Blue Pacific our interests and concerns transcend the limits of our 200-mile exclusive economic zones. The ocean is our gift and responsibility, a duty that we have inherited from generations past and which we will leave for future generation. Our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific continent commits us to urgent action to combat biodiversity and habitat loss across our sea of islands. This instrument is crucial in that regard.

I commend all those working behind the scenes, including our officials from the Pacific who have remained steadfast and have worked tirelessly for our collective and common interest to ensure a positive outcome. As demonstrated by our past experiences, we draw strength from unity and solidarity and together we have turned challenges into opportunities. The successful conclusion of negotiations will add to our rich heritage as one Blue Pacific, working together collectively for the benefit of our people. I also applaud the efforts of our respective regional organizations for providing the technical support to our Members during the negotiations since the beginning of the Conference, including supporting Members attendance to the Conference in New York throughout the BBNJ process.

And finally, I commend President Reena Lee of Singapore for her resolute leadership. I wish our Blue Pacific delegates all the best in the coming two weeks and particularly in drawing negotiations to a successful close.

I will close by quoting from the speech of the first Premier of the Cook Islands, when he spoke to the UN meeting on the law of the sea in Caracas, where he stated….’The Sea, Mr. President, represents as much to the people of small Pacific Islands as the land….it features as a major aspect in our customs and traditions, and proud heritage of explorers and navigators.”

Premier Albert Henry spoke those lines in 1974. Almost half a century later, that core message of ocean estate ownership and stewardship resonates—and with it, the recognition that we and all the nations of the world share one global sea.

Let this continue to frame the resolute position of our Blue Pacific in 2023, as we aim for the achievement of a global biodiversity treaty which can truly encompass and protect all life below water.