Areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) lie further than 200 nautical miles from shore and beyond countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones. They encompass both water column and seabed.
ABNJ represents almost half of the world’s surface, but less than 1% of these areas are under some kind of protection. In addition, they provide more than half of the oxygen that we breathe and absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Figure 13. Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.1
In relation to the legal framework that regulates ABNJ, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a general regime applicable to these areas (Parts VII and XI). Nevertheless, due to constant technological advancements, limitations from the past have been overcome and today human kind has access to the majority of the ocean, causing ABNJ to be constantly exposed to resource exploitation.
In this context, and within the United Nations framework, States have agreed to initiate a negotiation process in the upcoming years to develop a new International Agreement aimed towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in ABNJ.
This process represents a historical opportunity to create a new global and integral regime that addresses topics like access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessment, and capacity building and technology transfer, among other elements related to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in ABNJ.
Currently there are examples around the world where regional schemes of a group of States have driven conservation and management initiatives in areas beyond their jurisdictions, such as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
These examples and other initiatives in process like the Sargasso Sea and The Costa Rica Thermal Dome would find legal sustenance in the new International Instrument to be negotiated within the United Nations during upcoming years.