Oceans and Law of the Sea

 United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process established by the General Assembly in its resolution 54/33 in order to facilitate the annual review by the Assembly of developments in ocean affairs
Third meeting (New York, 8-15 April 2002)


  Statement by Mr. Hans Corell, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, The Legal Counsel

1.       On behalf of the Secretary-General and Ms Joanne DiSano, who is representing Mr. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, I would like to welcome you to the third meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process established by the General Assembly in its resolution 54/33 in order to facilitate the annual review by the Assembly of developments in ocean affairs.

2.       This year is a significant year for ocean affairs. It marks the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, hailed as the constitution for the oceans. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Agenda 21, the United Nations Programme of Action from the Earth Summit, chapter 17 of which puts forward a programme of action for the sustainable development of the world’s oceans, seas and coasts.

3.       An anniversary provides a vantage point for retrospection; at the same time it is an occasion for reaffirmation and for going forward.

4.       Looking back, what strikes one most is that, despite major accomplishments, for a large part of the community of nations the potentials of the oceans and their resources remained unrealized.

5.       Another striking fact is that, despite the formulation of a multitude of instruments and measures for governance, good governance in the case of the world’s oceans and seas is still far from a reality, nationally, regionally or globally.

6.       Using the event of the anniversary of Agenda 21 and UNCLOS as an opportunity for stocktaking, we find that the critical issue is that most countries simply do not have the capacity to put into effect and benefit from the constitution for the oceans or to carry out the “actions” laid out in the programme of action. This is also emphasized in the report before you. It states: “The concern about lack of capacity and the consequent need for capacity-building were expressed pointedly, urgently and repeatedly in, among others, General Assembly resolutions…, statements of delegations in the General Assembly and in the Consultative Process; and the reports of the Co-Chairpersons of the Consultative Process…”

7.       Let us take advantage of the anniversary as an occasion for reaffirmation and for going forward. Interestingly enough, when we examine the outcomes of deliberations of the international community, when we analyse the findings of the experts in the field, we see that the suggested measures to address the limitations identified in the past and to facilitate moving forward are, in most cases, those that are embedded in UNCLOS and Agenda 21 themselves. This fact is also stressed by your Co-Chairpersons while they discuss the “points of departure” under each area of focus of your meeting.

8.       One of the overarching measures that must be effectuated if we are to advance is international cooperation. Here, I would like to stress the fact that “international cooperation”, including regional cooperation, where appropriate, is not just a euphemism or platitude -- it is an obligation. It is a clear obligation both under the treaty law of UNCLOS and under the soft law of Agenda 21.

9.       We must not fail to recognize that the accomplishments thus far in international cooperation have been quite commendable indeed. The international cooperative projects and programmes, at the bilateral, subregional, regional, interregional and global levels, are substantial. As examples, let me mention the regional seas programmes, the regional fisheries management organizations, the international waters projects of the Global Environment Facility, and the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection. The way forward is to strengthen them, build upon them and add to them to address the identified gaps.

10.     Let me now focus on inter-agency coordination. A search for new ideas, approaches or mechanisms with regard to such coordination has become extremely essential in view of the fact that the Subcommittee on Oceans and Coastal Areas (SOCA) ceased to exist as of December 2001. As you know, this was pursuant to a decision of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the successor of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). The Board decided to move away from the concept of permanent subsidiary bodies with fixed periodicity of meetings and rigid reporting requirements, and instead, to rely increasingly on ad hoc, time-bound and task-oriented coordination arrangements. The efficacy of the latter type of arrangements needs to be studied in the case of oceans in view of the principle enshrined in the Convention that “the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be considered as a whole.”

11.     First of all, such arrangements will be facilitated if each agency designates a focal point for oceans and the law of the sea. Secondly, we can explore the involvement of the liaison offices of the agencies in New York in enhancing coordination in ocean matters. Finally, the CEB may wish to initiate an exercise that would look into the mandates and the work plans of the departments, funds, programmes and agencies of the United Nations system in the field of oceans and the law of the sea. The purpose of the exercise would be to eliminate areas of duplication, set out work in important areas that is not being performed now, and terminate outputs that no longer serve their intended purpose.

12.     Let me also stress that it will be impossible to achieve coordination of ocean affairs at the international level unless there is such coordination at the national level. After all, it is the representatives of the Governments who are represented in the governing bodies of the respective agencies provide the mandates for the work of the respective agencies. It is therefore necessary that well-defined and coordinated positions are developed in capitals so that delegates are well prepared when they interact at the international level.

13.     If we now focus on your present meeting, you have a substantial amount of work to accomplish. In addition to studying overall developments in ocean affairs, you will deal with two areas of focus. The first is protection and preservation of the marine environment. The second is capacity-building, regional cooperation and coordination, and integrated ocean management, as important cross-cutting issues to address ocean affairs. Furthermore, you will have an exchange of views on collaboration and coordination on ocean issues. The General Assembly relies on your work. This year, the World Summit on Sustainable Development may also benefit from your deliberations.

14.     I started by pointing to the significance of the year 2002 for the world’s oceans and seas. I would like to conclude by adding that for the Consultative Process itself, this year is also of great importance. As you know, the Consultative Process was established consistent with the legal framework provided by UNCLOS and the goals of chapter 17 of Agenda 21. It was to facilitate the annual review by the General Assembly, in an effective and constructive manner, of developments in ocean affairs. The task of the process was to consider the report of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the sea and to suggest particular issues to be considered by the General Assembly. The emphasis should be on identifying areas where coordination and cooperation at the intergovernmental and inter-agency levels should be enhanced.

15.     The Consultative Process has definitely carried out its mandated work successfully. The discussion in the General Assembly under the agenda item “Oceans and the law of the sea” during its 55th and 56th sessions and its resolutions are testimony to this.

16.     The present meeting is the last meeting of the Consultative Process in keeping with General Assembly resolution 54/33. In that resolution, the General Assembly decided “to review the effectiveness and utility of the consultative process at its fifty-seventh session”. Therefore, later this year, the General Assembly will do so. We look forward to the review and to the decision by the Assembly on how to go forward.

17.     I hope that you will join me in showing our appreciation to the two Co-Chairpersons of the Consultative Process, Ambassador Slade and Mr Simcock. They have led the Process from its infancy to its full maturity and we are indebted to them both for their guidance and tireless efforts.

18.     I wish you a successful round of consultations. 



 Statement by Ms. JoAnne DiSano, Director, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs on behalf of Mr. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

1        I am pleased to be with you this morning to open, with the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Hans Corell, the third meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process. Mr. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, regrets that he is unable to be here because his participation at the Second World Assembly on Ageing.

2.       The main themes of this year’s Consultative Process --protection and preservation of the marine environment and capacity-building, regional cooperation and integrated ocean management -- are closely related to the work of the CSD and the preparatory process for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). As you know, the WSSD will take place later this year in Johannesburg, South Africa, to review progress achieved in the implementation of the Programme of Action from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro ten years ago.

3.       The 3rd session of the Preparatory Committee for the Summit concluded last week, and there was considerable interest among participants in the issues related to the oceans, and significant work has been undertaken to give oceans, coasts and islands a higher political profile in the Summit process and at the Summit itself. There were lengthy discussions during the PrepCom on issues related to capacity-building, sustainable use and conservation of marine living resources, marine pollution, protection and management of coastal zones and marine ecosystems, ocean science and the need for better coordination and cooperation among Governments and international and regional organizations. Although there is not yet an agreed text on oceans, much constructive work has been done in setting the priorities of member States and major groups for the further deliberations to come. As these issues have been and are on the agenda of your process, I am sure the synergies between the two processes will lead to mutual benefits for both.

4.       Much of the momentum for a focus on oceans in the WSSD process may be due to the excellent inputs provided by various preparatory events sponsored by Governments and United Nations agencies, in particular the Global Conference on Oceans and Coasts held in Paris last December, and I wish to recognize the important contribution made by Mr. Patricio Bernal, Assistant Secretary-General of UNESCO to the organization of that conference. Other important recent meetings that have provided inputs to the WSSD PrepComs include the First Intergovernmental Review Meeting on Implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, organized by UNEP and held in Montreal, last November, and the Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem, co-sponsored by Iceland, Norway and the FAO, last October. In addition, UNEP’s annual Global Meetings of Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, and the ongoing work of the respective United Nations organizations related to oceans have contributed to Summit preparations. Certainly this meeting of the informal Consultative Process, coming between the two last and critical sessions of the WSSD PrepComs, has the opportunity to provide very useful input and guidance to the Summit on the very important and cross-cutting issues on your agenda.

5.       Finally, I would like to say a word on United Nations inter-agency coordination and collaboration, which is a major concern of the Consultative Process, as well as of the CSD. As Nitin Desai told you last year in his statement to your second meeting, DESA and CSD place great importance on the mechanisms of coordination that have been established through the Subcommittee on Oceans and Coastal Areas set up by the United Nations to coordinate inter-agency activities related to oceans and coasts, and to serve as Task Manager for chapter 17 of Agenda 21. Although the ACC sub structures have since been abolished, the members of SOCA and the other inter-agency committees have been urged to consider how inter-agency cooperation can still be handled through ad hoc, time-bound, task-oriented arrangements and other means of information-sharing. I am pleased to note that many members of the former SOCA are here in New York and will take advantage of this meeting of the Consultative Process to discuss among themselves this week how best to proceed along these lines. I look forward to hearing the results of their consultations.

6.       In conclusion, I thank you for this opportunity to share with you the views of DESA on your important work and the preparations for the Johannesburg Summit, and I wish you a very successful meeting.


Prepared by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations.

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