On 2 February, the Council of Ministers approved the BBNJ ratification file, paving the way for Belgian ratification of the BBNJ Agreement. Among other things, this UN agreement should allow for the designation of areas beyond national jurisdiction - on the high seas - as protected areas. Sixty countries must ratify the text before the agreement can enter into force. Our country is also putting itself forward as a candidate to house the BBNJ secretariat.
Employees of the FPS Public Health and the FPS Foreign Affairs have worked in recent months on the preparation of the ratification file. “We think it is important for Belgium to set a good example, especially now that we are President of the Council of the European Union,” says Sophie Mirgaux, special envoy for the ocean of the Belgian federal government (FPS Public Health). “Our country also played a pioneering role during the negotiations for the BBNJ agreement. So we certainly don't want to lag behind when it comes to ratification.”
Belgium has built up a strong reputation in the field of ocean protection in recent years. For example, our country was one of the founders of the Blue Leaders alliance, a group of countries that advocates urgent action to save the ocean in the face of the climate crisis, overfishing, pollution and other threats. As with other international conventions, a secretariat will also be established for BBNJ, and Belgium is a candidate to host it. “Our candidacy is an extension of our commitment in recent years,” says Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib. “It would greatly increase our country's international standing in the field of marine protection.”


The text of the BBNJ agreement, in full Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, was finalised in New York in March last year after nearly two decades of negotiations. The agreement is necessary to achieve the internationally agreed goal of converting 30 percent of international waters beyond national jurisdiction into marine protected areas by 2030, a percentage that scientists say is the absolute minimum to make the ocean resilient in the face of climate change.
Victory for international cooperation
Since September, the BBNJ agreement has been signed by more than eighty countries, including Belgium. However, for the agreement to enter into force, sixty countries must ratify the text, i.e. the parliaments of the various participating countries must officially approve the international agreement. On 22 January, the island state of Palau became the first to ratify the agreement. “This agreement for ocean protection is a victory for international cooperation, where we as a small country have been able to make a big difference,” said North Sea Minister Paul Van Tigchelt. “We cannot rest on our laurels. We must take urgent national action to turn the words of this agreement into deeds.”
In the context of the currently ongoing European presidency, our country is also working hard on the European ratification of the agreement. In addition, Belgium is committed to keeping the ocean high on the radar in other forums, for example in the climate negotiations and the biodiversity convention. A high-level meeting of the Blue Leaders will take place in Brussels on March 7, at which Belgium will once again call for rapid ratification of the agreement by the various countries.
Now that the Council of Ministers has approved the ratification file, the text can be submitted to the Council of State for advice and then submitted to the Federal Parliament for approval.