Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to address this session of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

As you know, my department, DESA, co-operates with the Office of Legal Affairs on sustainable development with respect to oceans, seas and marine life. We express our appreciation for their excellent collaboration in organizing this meeting.

Oceans are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Concern for ocean life has featured prominently in our work. Twenty years ago, an entire chapter was devoted to oceans in Agenda 21, the outcome document from the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. Since then, the Commission on Sustainable Development has agreed on actions regarding oceans, both at its eighth session and at the Johannesburg Summit. The Commission is also scheduled to undertake a two-year review of oceans, marine life and SIDS in 2015-2016.

In fact, the work that falls under the Law of the Sea and the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development have become more closely linked over time. In part, this is because the importance of oceans and marine life in sustainable development goals has become more prominent.

We all know billions of people depend on fish and oceans for their basic livelihoods, often at a subsistence level. Fish provide 3 billion people with at least 15 per cent of their animal protein.

Yet, we face many ocean-related challenges. These include loss of marine biodiversity pollution warming of the oceans ocean acidification bleaching of coral reefs and the decline in fish stocks.

The potential impacts of these challenges highlight the urgency of taking action. We must ensure the sustainable management and use of oceans and their marine resources. This is critical for current and future generations.

As you know, the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, “Rio+20”, will be held at the highest level in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. DESA serves as the Rio+20 Secretariat with seconded staff from the UN system. I am pleased to inform you that preparations are well underway.

At the second preparatory committee held in March 2011, many Member States emphasized the importance of sustainable management of oceans and the conservation of ocean resources. They often refer to a so-called “blue economy” approach, in line with Agenda 21. Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) specifically called for Rio+20 to provide support for sustainable ocean development and protection of resources. Therefore, the topic of oceans is expected to figure prominently at the Conference.

Furthermore, there will be several preparatory meetings covering this topic. For example, the government of Monaco is now collaborating with DESA on an Oceans meeting.

One of the Rio+20 conference themes is “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. But we must remember – the development of this “green economy” partly relies on how we use oceans and their resources.

As decided by the General Assembly, today’s discussions will focus on the following.

I quote: “Contributing to the assessment, in the context of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, of progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges”. End quote

The Secretary-General’s report shows that while considerable progress has been achieved, further efforts are needed – by Member States, by intergovernmental organizations and by other relevant actors.

With this in mind, I would like to list some challenges and emerging issues relating to sustainable management of oceans and to the law of the sea. The main challenges identified by Member States include capacity-building integrated management of oceans and seas environmental vulnerability of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) vulnerable marine ecosystems and ecologically or biologically significant areas.

Important emerging issues included marine genetic resources coral reef management marine debris nutrient over-enrichment geo-engineering ocean noise renewable energy and environmental data exchange.

All these challenges and emerging issues will require our concentrated and unified efforts as we seek a renewed commitment toward sustainable development at Rio+20. We welcome your deliberations and the resulting outcome. I expect they will have a positive impact next June.

In closing, I want to leave you with one thought – inter-linkages. Many of the challenges I just outlined originated from land-based pollution, unsustainable consumption and production, and climate change. To protect and sustainably manage oceans and marine resources, we need an integrated strategy. This means addressing the linkages with land-based activities and the way we produce and spur our economic growth.

We also must address the resource and capacity constraints of developing countries. They lack financial resources and technical capacity to effectively tackle the variety of challenges they face in oceans and marine resource management.

Please link the blue economy together with a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. You have an important task ahead. Let me wish you a very successful meeting. I look forward to continued efforts in promoting sustainable ocean development and protection of marine resources.

Thank you.