A path towards equity and fair opportunities - ECOPs from developing countries and the BBNJ negotiations

Mariana Caldeira and Vanessa Lopes share their reflections on the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction negotiations as early career ocean professionals from developing countries and look ahead to the importance of capacity development for the future of the equitable implementation of the agreement.

Global engagement and equity are critical pillars to achieve coherent and comprehensive measures towards ocean conservation. The foundation for building an integrative and successful international agreement must be based on the full and fair participation of States. However, there is an observed disparity in equity and equality between countries participating in international agreements, including the negotiations for the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement. To achieve an effective international agreement, we need all delegations to be present, and be able to participate and negotiate equally. There is a long way to go to achieve equitable participation. We call for this challenge to be recognised and addressed through enhanced participation of early career ocean professionals from developing countries.  

As early career ocean professionals (ECOPs) from developing countries who have witnessed first-hand recent negotiations for the BBNJ agreement, we believe in the importance of continuous efforts to allow equitable participation of countries to achieve an effective international agreement that benefits all – from preparatory phases to implementation phases. Disparities between countries’ participation, in which delegations from developed States dominated the negotiations, disconnection and divergence of interests among developing and developed States were some aspects witnessed by us during our attendance to the 5th IGC. 

Professionals from developing states must get the opportunity to express their needs and concerns, allowing them to articulate strategies to participate equitably and act collectively with all. Only through ensuring the capacity needed for every State we can secure a healthy ocean for future generations. 

For us, one of the key aspects in the BBNJ agreement is capacity development. Through enhanced international effort, early career scientists, and other professionals working in ocean science in the global South would be able to have the resources they need to conduct their own research towards conservation and sustainable use, finding suitable approaches for their countries.  

Building capacity and creating opportunities for less privileged countries must be fairly implemented in the new agreement, resulting in a balance among needs, interests, and opportunities among countries. These factors are likely to be the greatest enablers not only for the new BBNJ agreement but also for the successful implementation of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. Capacity development is a big step to have meaningful, genuine and lasting changes in ocean health. The AOSIS Declaration provides guidance in recognizing the needs of Small Island Developing States and principles to achieve long term equitable solutions. We need to ensure that the full range of capacity needs are being developed, by including science, technology policy, institutional, and appropriate finance are being implemented. This is the only way to achieve equity in negotiations, ensuring that future generations of ocean professionals can participate and contribute to the development and implementation of ocean policy.  

We would welcome hearing from fellow ECOPs about their experiences at UN negotiations, what disparities they observed, what were the key issues and the importance of negotiations in their perspective, and how they broke some of the barriers as ECOPs from developing countries to be able to participate and contribute to a UN negotiation.  


Authors: Mariana Caldeira (caldeira.mariana@ua.pt), Vanessa Lopes (vplopes@su.suffolk.edu)
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