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The Blueprint

Who owns the ocean?

Who owns the ocean?

  • The ocean supports 13 industries, including fishing, shipping, and communications
  • These industries are reliant on health ecosystems and ocean resources (space, water, fish, minerals)

About two thirds of the world’s oceans lie beyond the jurisdiction of any single country. But if so much of the oceans lies outside national boundaries, who will safeguard it? To answer this question, the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in the high seas was adopted last June.

Navigating this unchartered territory requires careful consideration and the BBNJ treaty will have implications for shipping, fishing, deep-seabed mining and submarine cable sectors (ICPC). Last week, we looked at the complex relationship between conflict and security of subsea infrastructure. We also need to consider how human activities can affect biodiversity. Existing international law under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants states the freedom to lay subsea cables, a vital component of our modern economy (NUS).

However, these are often installed by private companies operating outside the control of any single nation. To date, progress towards the treaty entering into force has been slow, with just two ratifications from Palau and Chile – far from the 60 ratifications needed. How can we ensure the continued development of crucial infrastructure like subsea cables while safeguarding the fragile ecosystems on which all life depends?

Photo source: Kristina Gjerde et al., High Seas Alliance, Inside Climate News

The BBNJ is a step towards the global goal of protecting at least 30% of the ocean. Scientists have identified several key areas for protection, including the Saya de Malha bank – famous for housing the world’s largest seagrass meadow which plays a key role in absorbing carbon emissions.

Photos: (Left) Global Fishing Activity. Photo from Global Fishing Watch.

(Right) Global shipping routes. Photo from

Singapore was among the first countries to sign the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement in New York on 20 September 2023. Home to the world’s second-largest port and the largest transhipment hub, Singapore is strategically located at the crossroads of trade routes linking Europe, the United States and Australia, handling about one-fifth of the world’s container transhipment traffic. To minimise disturbance to biodiversity, International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Member Governments like Singapore are obliged to ensure that ships flying their flag comply with rules on areas to be avoided to keep shipping away from areas at risk of damage from international shipping activities such as the Great Barrier Reef and whales’ breeding grounds.

Looking forward

What does sustainable use of our ocean look like in the midst of growing consumption and depleting resources? The BBNJ provides a legally binding instrument to facilitate area-based management, environmental impact assessment and screening of activities in the high seas. This sets the foundation for achieving the four goals (conservation & restoration, sustainable use, benefit sharing and means of implementation) of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. At PCM, our ESG analysis identifies well-positioned companies that contribute to a sustainable blue economy; ones that are transitioning to a low-carbon and circular economy in nature-positive ways.

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