Measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic have indefinitely postponed in-person formal international negotiations for a new legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). As a result, online initiatives have emerged to keep informal dialogue ongoing among both state and nonstate actors. To continue our research on the BBNJ process, we adapted our methodology and conducted a survey in May 2020 exploring the impact of COVID-19 on respondents’ BBNJ-related work and communication. This research note identifies online initiatives and communication channels set up to maintain negotiation momentum and examines the challenges and opportunities of digital diplomacy for multilateral environmental agreement making, as well as the study thereof. We discuss future avenues for global environmental politics research and conclude that digital ethnographies provide an entry point to study some of these dynamics but need to be adapted to the study of negotiation settings and the specific context of multilateral environmental diplomacy.

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Author notes


This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant 804599). The research presented is part of the ERC project MARIPOLDATA (https://www.maripoldata.eu/), led by Alice Vadrot. The authors give special thanks to Dr. Julien Rochette and John Hanus for their feedback on the survey and to Dr. Thomas Loidl for his suggestions on the survey and the research note’s draft. We also thank our distinguished partners who supported the survey dissemination. Finally, we are very grateful to all participants who took the time to answer our survey questions in this challenging time.