In September 2018, following over a decade of informal discussions, the United Nations General Assembly launched an intergovernmental conference to address the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. This process is scheduled to take two years and is structured around four themes: marine genetic resources, area-based management tools (including marine protected areas), environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and marine technology transfer. This Perspective draws on the earth system governance literature and the authors' own experience of and views on the BBNJ process to provide insights and recommendations for the ongoing negotiations. It highlights three areas of concern: (i) the politicization of science and coping with scientific uncertainty, (ii) institutional fragmentation; and (iii) the need for a new agreement to respond to the complex set of multiple, multilevel, and systemic threats to marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. (C) 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.