Towards better protection of the ocean

On 20 September, Belgian Minister of Justice and the North Sea Vincent Van Quickenborne signed the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Treaty. This agreement is the result of more than 17 years of negotiations at the United Nations.
21 September 2023

Life on earth is impossible without a healthy ocean. That's why countries around the world are taking measures to protect the ocean. However, until recently there was no legal framework to do this in areas outside national waters.

This situation led to the adoption of the BBJN Treaty, also referred to as the Treaty of the High Seas, in March 2023. Belgium was to a large extent involved in the development and finalisation af the agreement.

The treaty will only enter into force when at least 60 countries have signed and ratified it. Belgium signed the treaty on 20 September 2023. Minister Van Quickenborne also aims to bring the treaty's secretariat to Belgium.

The oceans are the blue lungs of our planet. However, they can only fulfill that role if they remain healthy and are effectively protected as a nature reserve. And that's where the shoe pinches. Two-thirds of the oceans are international waters, over which no country has jurisdiction. With this treaty we want to ensure that 30% of the oceans are protected natural areas by 2030.

Vincent Van Quickenborne

Vincent Van Quickenborne

Belgian Minister of Justice and the North Sea


The main elements of the treaty are:

  • a healthy and protected ocean in which biodiversity thrives and human activities have a limited impact can play an essential role in reducing the effects of climate change; 
  • the treaty makes it possible to set up nature reserves on the high seas in areas outside the territorial waters and exclusive economic zones or outside national jurisdiction. 
  • the treaty provides for access to marine genetic resources and a fair sharing of the benefits derived from them; 
  • the treaty sets clear rules for environmental impact assessments of activities on the high seas; and
  • the treaty contains provisions on capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.
BBNJ Treaty


Currently, only 1.2% of the ocean is listed as nature reserve. Scientists agree that at least 30% of the ocean needs to be protected in order to have a resilient ocean that has a positive impact on climate change.

The BBNJ Treaty provides for the possibility of creating nature reserves on the high seas and enables us to achieve this target figure. The earlier this treaty is ratified by 60 countries, the sooner efforts can be made towards a fully protected ocean.

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