Niels krabbe at the negotiation table.
Niels Krabbe, centre, at the negotiations of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction.

He negotiated the new global ocean treaty


Earlier this year, after more than 15 years of negotiations, the United Nations agreed on a global agreement to protect biodiversity in international waters. Niels Krabbe, researcher in international law, represented the EU in the negotiations for the agreement, which will enable the protection of 30 % of the world's oceans by 2030.

What was your role in the negotiations?

"At that time, I worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for maritime law issues, and I had an interesting role in the negotiations because Sweden held the EU Presidency. I was the first to gather the EU member states' positions on the issue and then negotiated with other UN countries together with representatives of the European Commission."

Why have the negotiations taken so long?

"UN negotiations always take a long time, and this is a complex agreement. The tense geopolitical situation did not make it easier. In this case, there were two main sides to the negotiations. On the one hand, there were countries in the global North asking for an ambitious environmental content, and on the other hand, there were countries in the global South asking for technology transfer and more equitable distribution of ocean resources. In the end, the sides managed to agree."

Niels Krabbe portrait
Niels Krabbe is a postdoctoral researcher in international law at the Department of Law at University of Gothenburg.

What is the scope of the agreement?

"It regulates the area outside the economic zone, which means that the agreement applies to two thirds of the total ocean surface and almost 95% of its volume."

What is most important in the agreement?

"The agreement regulates issues related to the management of the high seas. It creates a process for the establishment of marine protected areas, which is crucial to achieving the UN's goal of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030."

How does the agreement affect Sweden?

"It means that Sweden will be obliged under international law to ensure that our researchers, companies, and Swedish-flagged vessels operating in these areas comply with the rules of the agreement. For example, when they plan to lay cables on the sea floor, dump something, or carry out other activities that may affect marine life, they must first carry out a rigorous environmental assessment. Sweden must also ensure that those exploring marine life in these areas report what they plan to do and share information about what they find. Sweden must also ensure that Swedish vessels comply with restrictions imposed in marine protected areas. This will require new legislation in a number of areas. In addition, we are committed to fund a significant capacity support to developing countries."

What happens next?

"More than 80 states have already signed the agreement since it opened up for signature for less than a month. The countries that have signed the agreement must now develop national legislation to implement it. Then, they must  ratify the agreement, which means they are committed to comply. The agreement will enter into force after 60 states have ratified it. It's difficult to assess how long this will take, but there is political pressure for this to happen quickly, perhaps even before the UN Ocean Conference in Nice in 2025."

Text: Karl-Johan Nylén


Facts about the agreement

Almost half the Earth's surface is made up of marine areas located in international waters that no country owns or has the right to control. The new UN agreement for biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, BBNJ, has four parts:

  • rules for area-based management tools including marine protected areas.
  • environmental impact assessments
  • marine genetic resources
  • capacity building and technology transfer.