Tackling issues related to marine areas beyond the limits of countries’ jurisdiction would mark a “giant leap forward” in advancing the fair and sustainable management of the world’s ocean, the General Assembly heard today, as it adopted two resolutions linked to the implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The General Assembly adopted a draft resolution titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/72/L.12) by a recorded vote of 126 in favour to 1 against (United States) with 3 abstentions (El Salvador, Turkey, Venezuela).
Norway’s delegate, who had introduced the draft resolution, underscored that fisheries provided a vital source of food, employment, trade and economic well‑being for people throughout the world. The text addressed such critical issues as combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as fishing overcapacity. It also had the Assembly proclaim 5 June as the “International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing”.
However, the representative of the United States, having called for a vote, expressed his strong rejection of the text’s references to the World Trade Organization, but said he supported the rest of its language. Nonetheless, the representative of the European Union delegation voiced regret that the annual resolution — which had historically been adopted by consensus — had this year required a vote.
The Assembly also adopted an omnibus text titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/72/L.18) by a recorded vote of 128 in favour to 1 against (Turkey) with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela).
South Africa’s representative, who had introduced the omnibus text, welcomed progress in the work of the International Seabed Authority on draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in what was known as the “Area”. He stressed that the area beyond national jurisdiction — known as the “Area” — and its resources were the common heritage of mankind and must therefore benefit humankind as a whole. Indeed, without appropriate benefit‑sharing, “the strong would get stronger” and “the rich would get richer”, he warned.
Still, following that vote, several countries that were not parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea expressed concerns about the resolution’s references to that agreement. While they had voted in favour of the text, several emphasized that such votes must not be interpreted as acceptance of any obligations emanating from the Convention.
Although the 193‑member Assembly postponed action on the draft text, “International 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” (document A/72/L.7) pending a review of its programme budget implications, many delegations — including some of the draft’s 133 co‑sponsors — voiced support for its provisions calling for the official launch of negotiations on such an instrument.
New Zealand’s representative, introducing the draft text, said the resolution — if adopted following a review by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) — would have the Assembly convene the first session of a conference in 2018 to develop an internationally binding instrument. Further meetings would be scheduled for 2019 and 2020, he said, adding that the text also laid out the necessary details to ensure the conference’s smooth functioning.
Throughout the subsequent debate, many speakers welcomed the move to convene such a conference, even as some expressed disappointment with the achievements of the preparatory process leading up to it. Other delegates, meanwhile, underscored the critical importance of the landmark Convention on the Law of the Sea — sometimes cited as one of the United Nations most far‑reaching agreements — and emphasized that any new treaties or conventions must fully respect its provisions.
“We are at the dawn of something truly historical,” said Mauritius’s representative, voicing support for the proposal to convene the international conference. Noting that the current approach to protecting and conserving the biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was fragmented and had sometimes proven insufficient — with many gaps requiring clarification — he said the new instrument must ensure that the designation of area‑based management tools, including marine protected areas, was conducted in full consultation with coastal States and with respect for international law and generally accepted international practices.
Bangladesh’s representative, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, described 2017 as a fruitful year that, following years of discussion on ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction, would soon yield text‑based negotiations. Stressing that the needs of the world’s least developed countries must cut across all the topics identified for inclusion in the proposed legally binding instrument, he also underlined the importance of the Voluntary Trust Fund that facilitated their participation in the negotiation process.
Several speakers spotlighted the emerging challenges resulting from climate change, urging that related discussions must be central to the upcoming negotiations, as the issue was a matter of international security, as well as a major component to achieving sustainable development.
Jamaica’s representative, speaking for the Caribbean Community, said its members — like many other small island developing States — were highly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise, marine pollution, ocean acidification and their impacts on fish stocks and marine ecosystems. As evidenced by the recent hurricanes Irma and Maria, the region also remained highly susceptible to extreme weather events. However, it was also committed to strengthening its response to those challenges, he said, citing a myriad of regional efforts.
The representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, struck a similar tone, describing climate change as the defining security challenge of the century. Reiterating the call for the appointment of a United Nations climate and security expert, she also noted the relevant role of the Organization’s reports in providing her region with support and knowledge.
Michael Lodge, Secretary‑General of the International Seabed Authority, and Jin‑Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, also addressed the General Assembly, both outlining recent work of their respective bodies. Mr. Paik, citing the Tribunal’s swift deliberations in several recent maritime delimitation cases, noted that the court might have new roles to play as issues emerged during the upcoming discussions on areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The Assembly also had before it a report of the Secretary‑General, “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/72/70) as well as its addendum (document A/72/70/Add.1); two reports of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (documents A/72/89 and A/72/494) and a report on the work of the United Nations Open‑ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its eighteenth meeting (document A/72/95).
Also speaking today were representatives of Ecuador (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Algeria, Samoa (for the Pacific Islands Forum), Singapore, Monaco, Japan, Australia, Kuwait, Canada, Iceland, Philippines, Argentina, Malta, China, Palau, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Viet Nam, Marshall Islands, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Russian Federation, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Kiribati, Turkey, El Salvador, Venezuela, Argentina and Columbia, as well as the European Union.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 6 December, to consider draft resolutions relating to the investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him, and cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
KATE NEILSON (New Zealand) introduced the draft resolution, “International 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” (document A/72/L.7). The text would have the Assembly decide to convene an international meeting, determine the conference’s start date and its timing, as well as the necessary details to ensure its smooth functioning. Noting that New Zealand had also co-sponsored two draft resolutions to be introduced by other speakers, she said her delegation further aligned itself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The fore mentioned draft text on areas beyond national jurisdiction would have the Assembly decide that the conference would begin in 2018, with further meetings scheduled for 2019 and 2020, she continued. It also laid out the conference’s modalities, requested the Secretary-General to nominate a president or presidents of the conference, and asked the United Nations Secretariat to support it. To date, the text was supported by 133 co-sponsors, she said, expressing hope that additional sponsors would come forward and that the Assembly would adopt it by consensus. By other terms of the text, the Assembly would decide that the topics to be addressed at the conference would include marine genetic resources, area-based management tools including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments and capacity-building, and the transfer of marine technology.
THEMBILE JOYINI (South Africa), introducing an omnibus draft resolution titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/72/L.18), said the text recalled the Assembly’s annual resolutions on oceans and the Law of the Sea. Underscoring the importance of the text on areas beyond national jurisdiction as one critical element, he said the adoption of an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was potentially one of the most significant in international environmental law-making, promising to address the Convention’s legal, governance, regulatory and implementation gaps. The draft resolution on oceans and the Law of the Sea, meanwhile, welcomed progress in the work of the International Seabed Authority on draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in what was known as the “Area”.
Noting that the Area and its resources were the common heritage of mankind — and meant to benefit humankind as a whole — he said the Authority therefore had a fundamental role to play in ensuring that an appropriate regulatory regime was established in accordance with the Convention. In addition, it should provide adequate security of tenure for future exploitation of the mineral resources of the Area, while ensuring the effective protection for the marine environment. Stressing that the clear and literal meaning of the Convention’s article 145 made plain that the Authority had a role to play in the preservation and conservation of the marine environment, he said that solemn responsibility must be carried out faithfully. The objectives of part XI of the Convention would only be realized when the world moved to the mining phase, which must be accompanied by benefit sharing. Without such sharing, he warned that “the strong would get stronger, the rich would get richer, and among the rich themselves there would arise an increasing and insuperable differentiation between two or three and the remainder.”
He went on to say that, by other terms of the 56‑page text, the Assembly would also make specific recommendations in such areas as capacity-building; the peaceful settlement of disputes; the continental shelf and the work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; maritime safety; marine biodiversity; marine science; and the global process for reporting on the state of the marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects. In addition, the Assembly would express serious concern about the number of States Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea who were in arrears of their assessed contributions to the International Seabed Authority, as well as about the low attendance at the annual sessions of the Authority’s Assembly.
ANDREAS MOTZFELDT KRAVIK (Norway) introduced the draft resolution, “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/72/L.12).
Fisheries provided a vital source of food, employment, trade and economic well-being for people throughout the world, he noted. The draft addressed critical issues, such as achieving sustainable fisheries, combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and addressing fishing overcapacity and improving subregional and regional cooperation to achieve sustainable development. The resolution also highlighted the importance of responsible practices for conservation of fisheries resources and the sustainable management and development of fisheries, and recalled the entry into force of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.
He said that the text would have the Assembly call on all States that had not done so to become parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The Assembly would also call on States and regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements to assess the risks and potential adverse impacts of climate change with respect to fish stocks, and consider them when establishing conservation and management measures and identifying options to reduce risks and adverse impacts.
Encouraging States to apply precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches when adopting and implementing conservation and management measures, the draft resolution would call upon all States that had not yet done so to ratify or accede to the Convention’s 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to implement its provisions in their national legislation, as well as regional fisheries management organizations in which they participated.
Proclaiming 5 June as the “International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing” — and inviting the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to serve as lead agency for the Day — he also said that the text would have the Assembly make recommendations in such areas as monitoring, control and surveillance; compliance and enforcement; fishing overcapacity; large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing; and fisheries by-catch and discards. Among other things, it would encourage States to improve the understanding of the causes and impacts of forced labour and human trafficking in the fishing and aquaculture industries, and to further consider actions to combat those practices, including by raising awareness.
FABIÁN OSWALDO GARCÍA PAZ Y MIÑO (Ecuador), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, thanked the facilitators in drafting the proposed resolution on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, saying that consultation had been conducted in an open and transparent way. Noting that the Group of 77 was fully committed to the process, he said the draft text represented a compromise to move forward to developing an international legally binding instrument.
He also welcomed the Assembly’s consideration of convening an intergovernmental conference in 2018. That meeting would take up the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly resolution 69/292 on the elements of the text of an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
MEHDI REMAOUN (Algeria), speaking for the African Group, said conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was crucial for the future of humankind. Adding that all member States of his group were co-sponsors of the draft resolution, he pointed out that few drafts not directly initiated by the African Group enjoyed such support within it.
The Group fully supported the decision to convene an intergovernmental conference in 2018 to elaborate a new treaty on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he continued. However, it was regrettable that the conference would be held in September, only a few days before the High-level week of the seventy‑third United Nations General Assembly. Underlining the importance of providing financial contributions to the Voluntary Trust Fund to support participation of African States at the conference, he urged stakeholders in a position to do so to widely contribute to that Fund.
COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the Community remained committed to the full implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. As the cornerstone for regulating all activities pertaining to oceans and seas, the Convention was a central framework for addressing the closely interrelated nature of ocean space problems. Like many other small island developing countries, the member States of CARICOM were highly vulnerable to the effects of marine pollution, ocean acidification and their impacts on fish stocks and marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, as well as the effect of climate change on sea level rise. Those factors affected their fishing communities, tourism and its people and economies at all levels.
As evidenced by the recent hurricanes Irma and Maria, the region remained highly susceptible to extreme weather events, but its resolve to better respond to those challenges had strengthened, he said. Antigua and Barbuda was the first CARICOM country to ban single plastic bags and was expanding the ban to include polystyrene or Styrofoam containers. St. Vincent and the Grenadines had committed to conserve and sustainably manage at least 20 per cent of its marine and coastal environment by 2020. Jamaica’s goal was to strengthen the regime governing its protected areas through promulgation of a Cays Management Policy, a new protected areas policy and overarching protected areas legislation. Guyana was developing a suite of interrelated services to better manage its coastal ecosystem, including data gathering, social mobilization and capacity development.
JANE J. CHIGIYAL (Federated States of Micronesia), speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said the serious and mounting threats to oceans constituted a serious challenge to achieving sustainable development. Healthy and productive oceans and seas were essential for the development of any country, particularly those in the Pacific. She welcomed the first United Nations conference to support the implementation of the goals on oceans. Pacific small island developing States were not alone in reacting with deep concern to the threats facing the world’s oceans, she noted.
Climate change would be the defining security challenge of the century, she went on to say, reiterating the call for the appointment of a United Nations climate and security expert. In a similar vein, she noted the relevant role of United Nations reports in lending support and knowledge to the region. The importance of healthy fisheries could not be overstated. In particular, tuna had been a source of food and livelihood for the Pacific for centuries. That fish stock’s decline was of serious concern, she continued, adding that she was pleased to see a “Day of Tuna” included in the new resolution.
ALI’IOAIGA FETURI ELISAIA (Samoa), speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, recalled that in September the bloc had endorsed “The Blue Pacific — our security through sustainable development, management and conservation” as its new narrative for the region. The importance of tuna had been increasing, he noted, with more attention being directed to conservation measures and promoting more sustainable fishing practices in tuna fisheries. During the first half of 2017, the Pacific Islands Forum had focused its work on the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, held in June. More than 1,400 voluntary commitments had been registered to drive the Goal’s implementation forward, with Forum members pledging more than 100 voluntary commitments and launching new partnerships. In September, Forum leaders had also pledged to fast-track developing policies to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic and Styrofoam packaging.
The bloc’s leaders had called for commencing United Nations negotiations for a new Law of the Sea Implementing Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction, he continued. In that regard, he welcomed the successful conclusion in July of the fourth meeting of the Preparatory Committee and looked forward to the intergovernmental conference mandated by the draft resolution on that topic (document A/72/L.7). In June, an informal consultative process had examined the effects of climate change on oceans, looking at the science as well as the scale of effects. Considering that the majority of the Forum members were small island States, effects such as ocean warming, acidification, sea level rises and others had profound socioeconomic consequences for them, highlighting their vulnerability. More support and sustainable funding for ocean-related activities were needed to mitigate and build resilience against the effects of climate change on oceans.
EGLANTINE CUJO, European Union delegation, said that the resolution, “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”, served to focus on issues in the marine domain, including fisheries and the marine environment. The second resolution to be adopted on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea reflected customary international law and established the overarching legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out. The third resolution aimed for a new implementing agreement under the Conventions on the Law of the Sea, addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Discussions and negotiations on that instrument would enable the General Assembly to convene an intergovernmental conference to negotiate a new implementing agreement of the Convention. However, she voiced concern that one paragraph of recommendations was not an element that generated convergence among most delegations.
Turning to the resolution on sustainable fisheries, she expressed appreciation for the importance it accorded to the need to effectively manage fisheries methods. One of the main impediments to achieving sustainable fisheries was illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, she said, urging all States to sign up to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. She noted that the topics chosen for the next meetings of the States Parties to the [Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks] (United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement) were highly relevant, and should help to improve fisheries management in line with the recommendations from the 2016 review conference.
TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh), speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said 2017 had been a fruitful year in the context of developing an internationally legally binding instrument under the 1982 Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
“Following years of discussion, we have finally arrived at a moment where we can expect to embark on intergovernmental, text-based negotiations on the proposed legally binding instrument,” he said, underlining the important recommendations pertaining to the interest of the Group in that regard. The needs of those nations must be considered to be cross-cutting in nature across the topics identified for inclusion in the proposed legally binding instrument. As well, the Voluntary Trust Fund played an important role in supporting delegates and experts from least developed countries to participate in the negotiation process.
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) said the oceans not only provided a livelihood for millions of people through sustaining food security and maritime trade, but also regulated the climate and were an important source of renewable energy. As a small island State, the oceans and seas were inextricably linked to his country’s survival and wellbeing. As for the International Seabed Authority, he welcomed the increased outreach by its Secretariat and its restructuring efforts to improve the Authority’s efficiency. Concerning the preparatory process addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he expressed support for the draft resolution on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the Convention. Towards that end, he called for a consensual approach that ensured no party was left behind. Turning to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, he called for a concerted and collective action to address ocean issues on a global scale.
ISABELLE ROSABRUNETTO (Monaco) said that the complexity of challenges facing the world called for a holistic response, particularly in the area of ocean conservation. The international community must take part in concrete, effective and multi-party partnerships, she added, noting that protection of the environment was linked to the good health of whole societies. The human impact on the environment ecosystem must be further studied. All countries benefitted from the use of marine resources and environment protection. She noted several programmes her country was taking part in to strengthen capacity-building and scientific cooperation. There was still much work to be done, she said, noting studies showing that marine protected areas played a critical role in combating climate change. Monaco had participated in several regional and international conferences, and had recently hosted a conference on the Mediterranean Sea. She also said it was essential to evaluate trends of production and consumption.
JUN HASEBE (Japan), expressing support for the work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority, said a balanced approach to the exploitation of the deep seabed — taking environmental conservation into account — was needed. Japan would continue to engage constructively toward the adoption of a rational Exploitation Code in that regard. Bearing in mind the importance of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he said that his country, alongside the United Nations University, would hold an international symposium in Tokyo on 14 December aimed at raising greater awareness of the Commission’s achievements. As for maritime safety and security, he underlined the importance of responding to piracy and armed robbery against ships. With regards to marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he noted that his delegation had co-sponsored the related draft resolution, adding that he looked forward to contributing to discussions in the forthcoming international conference leading to a well-balanced, effective and universal legally binding instrument.
CAITLIN WILSON (Australia), associating herself with the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomed the annual omnibus resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. The Convention compelled countries to cooperate to conserve the living resources of the high seas, while also guaranteeing a suite of rights, such as navigation rights, which were vital to shipping and trading nations such as hers. Turning to illicit wildlife trafficking, she pointed out that it threatened the survival of marine species such as corals, clams, seahorses and turtles. Transnational criminal networks often used marine routes as part of their trafficking supply chain, she said, adding that the resolution highlighted the relevance of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes in addressing that issue.
MOHAMMAD H. M. S. ALAJMI (Kuwait) said that the maritime transport sector was considered the primary factor for trade and economic growth for most countries. Ships transported some 80 per cent of goods around the world. Therefore, piracy and terrorism aimed at ships constituted a serious threat to trade and those working on ships. “We cannot defeat such challenges without the concerted efforts of the international community,” he said, urging collaboration and cooperation among countries. He also called on all Member States to launch joint endeavours that would allow all to benefit from marine resources. Furthermore, all Member States must commit to relevant international treaties and promote international peace and security.
MICHAEL BONSER (Canada) reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the sustainable management of its fisheries, as well as to surpassing the international marine conservation targets. After years of effort, the international community was about to enter a critical phase in the development of the Agreement addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Stressing that scientific evidence pointed to climate change as one of the greatest threats of the current era, he highlighted its widespread impacts on oceans, ranging from coastal flooding to the expanding melt of sea ice in the Arctic. Canadian marine scientists were pursuing research on climate change and ocean acidification through the Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program which aimed at informing future policy development and evidence-based resource management decisions.
MATTHIAS G. PALSSON (Iceland), noting that livelihoods in his country had depended on sustainable use of ocean resources for centuries, said that sea law had never been more challenging due to the need to respond to the results of human activity. The effects of climate change were already being felt in his country. Concerted international action was needed to protect Arctic waters, he stressed, reporting that his country and nine other parties had last week negotiated a draft agreement to prevent unregulated fisheries in parts of that region. Marine litter, as well as comprehensive implementation of the various ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals were also priorities. Iceland had been an active participant in negotiations on a framework for biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. He urged that every effort be made to reach a consensus-based text on that topic despite its complexity. However, issues that were already subject to adequate international regimes should not be re-negotiated or subject to conflicting regimes, he said, adding that it was critical to take all the time needed to produce a successful and long-lasting outcome.
TEODORO LOPEZ LOCSIN, JR. (Philippines) said that sustainable ocean management was critical for an archipelagic country such as his. Oceans were not only a source of life-giving goods, everything about them were living. As a party to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, the Philippines was committed to the conservation of, and sustainable access to standing and highly migratory fish stocks — within and beyond the exclusive economic zone. Collective neglect and greedy exhaustion of the oceans’ resources for immediate gain, and at the cost of irreversible damage, had resulted in ever smaller fisheries catch and in the worsening illicit trafficking in protected species. It also had resulted in ocean acidification, coral bleaching, sea-level rise, coastal flooding and deadlier tropical cyclones brought on by ocean warming. His country supported the strengthening of capacity-building, along with the transfer of marine technology, education and the sharing of traditional knowledge on oceans issues, including in the prevention of the smuggling of migrants and human trafficking by sea and in fighting piracy.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea struck a delicate balance between States’ rights and obligations; that must always be carefully respected. Expressing support for the convening of a conference on the important issue of marine biodiversity in zones beyond national jurisdiction, he underlined the need to take account of the conservation and sustainable use of such resources. In 1970, the Assembly had declared zones beyond national jurisdiction to be the common heritage of all mankind. Noting that 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he expressed concern about that body’s inadequate service conditions, including its staff’s lack of medical coverage. Stressing that all negotiations related to the Law of the Sea should continue to be adopted by consensus, he expressed concern over statements made by some parties seeking to legitimize regional fisheries management mechanisms whose activities went beyond their scope and orbit, or which assumed authority over vessels flying the flags of countries that were not parties to those organizations. He voiced further concern over attempts to legitimize the actions by some groups of States, which were trying to establish regulations over marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, even before a legal instrument on those matters had been developed.
CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta) recalled that 50 years ago, his country’s then permanent representative, Arvid Pardo had stated that the seabed, ocean floor and sub-soil were “the common heritage of mankind” and should be used for peaceful purposes and for the exclusive benefit of humanity. That stance earned Mr. Pardo the title of “Father of the Modern Law of the Sea”. On 15 December, Malta would host an international symposium to discuss global ocean governance, he continued, adding his support for the establishment of an intergovernmental panel on ocean governance to address the current fragmented state of affairs still governing the ocean, despite the very valuable and indispensable work being undertaken by the United Nations.
WU HAITAO (China) said that his country’s Belt and Road Initiative, in particular the building of the twenty-first century Maritime Silk Road, would strongly boost international cooperation in ocean affairs under the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and benefit sharing. Those efforts would strike a balance between protection and sustainable use of the oceans, while promoting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The proposed draft agreement on marine biological diversity neither covered all items nor represented consensus and would have, as such, no effect on future positions of parties. Regulations addressing the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area must be commensurate with the current level of human activities in and knowledge of the Area.
HERSEY KYOTA (Palau), associating himself with the Pacific small island developing States and the Pacific Islands Forum, said: “Living on the islands means you are born a fisher — man and woman.” Depleted fish stocks and declining ocean biodiversity were an everyday reality for fishing communities, and science was now proving those tales true. The ocean was like a sick person who would die if the international community did not help it heal. The past year had seen great progress in putting the issue onto the world stage, he said, recalling the Ocean Conference and its outcomes. Palau had declared sanctuary status for 80 per cent of its water, the size of France, he noted, but national efforts would be meaningless if the vast ocean beyond the country’s maritime borders was not wisely managed. “The ocean does not divide us, it unites us,” he said, calling on the international community to work together to restore it.
Mr. VASYLENKO (Ukraine) said that the marine environment continued to be a matter of serious concern due to climate change, human activities, marine debris and illegal and unregulated fishing. All above‑mentioned factors were increasing pressure on marine ecosystems, leading to their gradual disruption. Thus, the international community must pay special attention to those problems and take concrete steps to address them. It was unfortunate that Ukraine was facing great challenges regarding its adjoining maritime areas. His country was taking reasonable steps to resolve the existing dispute with the Russian Federation by peaceful and legal means, including instituting the arbitral proceedings under the Convention. The ability of States to maximize benefits from oceans and seas and develop a sustainable ocean‑based economy depended on maintaining and enhancing the security of maritime spaces.
LLOYD CLAYCOMB (United States) said his country was pleased to co‑sponsor the resolution on oceans and the Law of the Sea, especially as it encouraged a global effort to map the ocean floor. Addressing references in the resolution to the Paris Agreement, he pointed out that the United States had communicated on 4 August to the United Nations that it intended to withdraw from that accord. Language on climate change in the text was without prejudice to evolving the United States’ positions. However, he said that his country recognized that climate change was a complex global challenge, and stood ready to continue working on it with others. Regarding the draft on an internationally binding legal instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he said his country had been pleased to participate in the Preparatory Committee discussions, but was disappointed with the outcome. In particular, the Committee had not enabled delegations to negotiate consensus‑based elements of the draft text of a new instrument, as the Assembly had mandated it to do. Thus, his delegation would be unable to support the resolution, but would not block consensus.
UMASANKAR YEDLA (India) recalled that the United Nations Oceans Conference held in June had been the first high‑level conference focusing on the interlinked aspects of the condition of the oceans and the impact on sustainability. India had contributed to the voluntary registry of commitments, and, on World Oceans Day, had announced the establishment of the India-United Nations Development Partnership Fund. The first World Ocean Assessment Report presented in April had been useful in contributing to the science-policy interface and had been considered at the eighth meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment. His country, with a longstanding maritime tradition and abiding interest in ocean affairs, was the world’s third largest producer of fish and had 12 major ports. He called for working towards innovative technologies for offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, deep seabed mining and marine biotechnology. Earlier in 2017, the first Summit of the Indian Ocean Rim Association had recognized Blue Economy as a driver of inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development. India was also an active participant in multilateral efforts at developing a collective management of ocean affairs and was one of the early parties to the Law of the Sea.
RISHY BUKOREE (Mauritius), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said “we are at the dawn of something truly historical,” as he joined other speakers in welcoming the convening of the intergovernmental conference to develop a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. While that instrument should have a clear focus on the protection and preservation of the marine environment — including by restoring ecosystem integrity, protecting habitats and conserving species and genetic diversity — it should also encourage enhanced cooperation between States and international organizations and pay particular attention to developing countries. The current approach to protecting and conserving the biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was fragmented and had sometimes proven insufficient, with gaps requiring clarification including on the marine biodiversity found in the water columns over the areas of the extended continental shelf. Among other things, the new instrument should ensure that the designation of area-based management tools, including marine-protected areas, should be done in full consultation with coastal States and in full respect for international law and generally accepted international practices.
ALEJANDRO ALDAY (Mexico) said that the Convention on the Law of the Sea was an essential part of cooperation at the national, regional and international level. His country was fully committed to the sustainable use of oceans. In the national sphere, it had taken initiatives to promote the conservation and preservation of the marine environment, ensuring that over 22 per cent of its marine areas were protected. Mexico was also committed to developing and coordinating synergies with and among partners and countries. He endorsed conclusions highlighting the need for urgency to address the effects of climate change on marine biodiversity, and urged States to continue to improve their scientific research in order to better understand those effects. He also urged international organizations to share information and coordinate research. As for the illegal trade of species, he presented progress on two national cases, noting action that his Government had taken to halt such activities.
NGUYEN PHOUNG NGA (Viet Nam) said that it was heartening to witness significant developments relating to ocean affairs and the Law of the Sea over the past year, in particular the success of the Ocean Conference. She also stressed the need to turn commitments into actions, noting the importance of capacity‑building and the transfer of modern marine technology by developed countries to developing and least developed countries, coastal and small island developing States. That would help strengthen ocean‑based economies and their resilience to climate change. Since its entry into force, the Convention on the Law of the Sea had been the most important legal document regulating all activities in the oceans and seas. It obligated States to fully implement its provisions in good faith and in a responsible manner so that the sovereignty and legitimate rights of all States were respected. Regarding the East Sea (also known as the South China Sea), the maintenance of maritime security and the cooperation on conservation and sustainable use of its resources were of vital importance to peace and security, she said.
AMATLAIN ELIZABETH KABUA (Marshall Islands), aligning herself with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific small island developing States, noted that her region supplied approximately half the world’s tuna and was home to rich biodiversity. The Marshall Islands had benefited from the zone-based approach from the Nauru Agreement, and the related Vessel Day Scheme, and was moving forward to build capacity to fish its own waters, support vessels and process catch. She voiced her firm rejection of a “flag State right” of distant fishing nations to fish in her country’s waters. It had been licencing others to fish in those waters until national capacity was built; at that point those others must give way. Her country was determined to achieve sustainable development through sustainable fisheries. The direct involvement of her country in creating its own economic future was the key to a dramatic transformation of the entire region. Expressing strong concern over the overall state of the oceans, she looked forward for negotiations on a new instrument to address biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction and to continue to mainstream oceans issues into wider development planning.
INA KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia) said that her country had launched tough measures against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and had also adopted a regulation barring slavery or forced labour in fisheries industries. Poachers were now avoiding Indonesian waters. Furthermore, Indonesia also led the establishment of regional instruments to fight crimes in the fisheries sector. She underscored the sense of urgency agreed to by leaders within the Call for Action, given that the situation on the oceans had already reached an alarming level. “Our oceans and seas are facing critical challenges from just one source: ourselves,” she stressed. The adverse impact of climate change and oil pollution at sea, including oil spills from fixed platforms and vessels collisions, marine plastic debris and crimes in fisheries sectors were all concerning. She called on Member States which had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
ROBERT SISILO (Solomon Islands), associating himself with the Pacific small island developing States and the Pacific Islands Forum, noted that his country sat on the largest aquatic continent in the world, and had a huge maritime exclusive economic zone that was much larger than its land territory. The ocean had always been the Solomon Islands’ source of livelihood, but it was also its culture, gastronomy and leisure. “The ocean defines who we are,” he said, adding that failing to protect the ocean from climate change, acidification, plastic pollution and oil spills was “failing to protect ourselves”. The Ocean Conference had represented a ray of hope, and the international community must accelerate that positive momentum, he said, calling on the Security Council to address the issue of climate change.
MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation), emphasizing that the Convention was essential for cooperation at the national, regional and international levels, underscored that its integrity must be preserved. In that context, any attempt to restructure various international instruments was unacceptable. He called on States to cooperate in creating new and increasingly effective regional fishing management bodies. Furthermore, while discussing issues related to the preservation of marine biodiversity was particularly important, he noted a lack of consensus regarding an international legally binding document based on the Law of the Sea. The biodiversity progress then became hostage to artificial haste, and some unclear aspects of future modalities were omitted. He said such approaches would not allow the Russian Federation to join consensus on the resolution. He also said the statements made by the representative of Ukraine were deeply propagandist.
Mr. RAVSHAN (Maldives), associating himself with the Group of 77, said States had to face the alarming reality that the world’s oceans were in peril. Pollution was at an all‑time high; climate change was causing irreversible damage such as sea level rise; coral was dying; and species were being driven to extinction. Such challenges were too large for small States to face alone. Welcoming the recent historic first United Nations Ocean Conference, he called for a transparent follow‑up process, including through the newly established Community for Ocean Action. Gaps must be identified and further action galvanized. He also called for a follow‑up conference showcasing success stories, including the Maldives’ elimination of plastic waste, its long‑standing use of sustainable industrial practices and its utilization of the world’s “cleanest and greenest” fishing methods. Nevertheless, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by foreign vessels remained a major challenge for his country, and required the collective support of the international community. The potential legally binding instrument on areas beyond national jurisdiction would help protect parts of the ocean that currently lay beyond protection.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea) said the draft resolution’s sponsorship by nearly 70 per cent of Member States was a clear testament of their commitment to address the tragedy of the global commons, particularly marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The unacceptable status quo must be effectively addressed for the sake of humanity and future generations. Indeed, it was a call for action against “business as usual”. As evidenced by the political sensitivities witnessed during the Preparatory Committee process, the stakes were high and the road ahead would not be without challenges. As trustees of the global commons, the international community must work together to make the transformative change necessary for the greater good of humanity.
SABITA NAKARMI (Nepal), associating herself with the Group of 77, said that oceans were the lifeblood, providing humans with oxygen, food, freshwater and medicines. They also provided shelter for various marine biodiversity and species, as well as stability for transportation, international trade and tourism. Oceans were precious for all countries — big and small, developed and developing, situated near and far from the sea-coast. It must be the shared responsibility of the international community to take care of the health of oceans and enhance their capacity while also making use of the marine resources and biodiversity in a sustained manner. For landlocked countries like Nepal, she underscored the critical role of the following: marine genetic resources as common heritage of mankind; equitable sharing of benefits; capacity-building and transfer of technology; and protection of environment and ecosystem through area-based management tools.
TEBURORO TITO (Kiribati), associating himself with the Pacific small island developing States and the Pacific Islands Forum, voiced his regret that his country had not been present in the initial discussions leading to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; it was still under colonial rule at the time. Thus, the resulting Convention had done a significant injustice to Kiribati, splitting its traditional ocean area into three distinct exclusive economic zones. Nevertheless, Kiribati today was doing its part to help heal the oceans, having recently declared over 300,000 square metres of its own exclusive economic zone as the “Phoenix Islands Protected Area”, where fishing was totally banned. “It is a great sacrifice for a small nation like Kiribati,” he stressed, pointing out that by doing so his people were forgoing millions of dollars in fishing revenue in favour of replenishing the ocean’s fish stocks as a gift to mankind. Greater collaboration at the international level would tackle the human greed that was destroying the world’s oceans, he said, outlining his country’s ambitious plan to become a wealthy, strong and self‑sufficient nation by 2037.
JIN-HYUN PAIK (Republic of Korea), President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, said that in June, the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea had elected seven judges to the Tribunal to serve terms of nine years. Two of those — Boualem Bouguetaia of Algeria and José Luis Jesus of Cabo Verde — had been re-elected, while the other five were new to the court. As a result of those elections, the Tribunal now counted three female judges among its members. On 30 September, his predecessor, Vladimi Golitsyn had completed his three-year term as President of the Tribunal. On 2 October, Mr. Paik had been elected as President and David Attard of Malta as its Vice-President.
Over the reporting period, he said, the Tribunal’s Special Chamber, formed to deal with the dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, had delivered its judgement. That ruling marked the boundary between the two parties in the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, including the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. In addition, the Chamber had addressed Côte d’Ivoire’s claim of Ghana’s alleged violations of the rights of the former. In its findings on those matters, the Chamber had found that no tacit agreement existed between the parties to delimit their territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. It had also emphasized that oil practice could not in itself establish the existence of such a tacit agreement; therefore, “to equate oil concession limits with a maritime boundary would be equivalent to penalizing a State for exercising such caution and prudence”.
He also outlined the Chamber’s further findings, including the delimitation methodology, the establishment of a provisional equidistance line and the location of marine mineral resources — as well as its reasoning in finding that none of Ghana’s activities had engaged its international responsibility or violated Côte d’Ivoire sovereign rights. Immediately after the Chamber had handed down its judgements in the case, the parties’ representatives had issued a joint communiqué in which they reiterated their mutual commitment to abide by the terms of the decision and to collaborate for its implementation.
Turning to another case currently on the Tribunal’s docket — the “M/V Norstar case” (Panama v. Italy) — he recalled that the 2015 case concerned the arrest and detention of the Norstar, an oil tanker flying the flag of Panama. On 4 November 2016, the Tribunal had delivered a judgement on the preliminary objections raised by Italy against the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and the admissibility of the application. Currently, written proceedings on the merits of the case were being conducted, the first round of which were already complete.
He went on to say that the Tribunal’s judgements in the cases Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh v. Myanmar) and Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary in the Atlantic Ocean (Ghana v. Côte d’Ivoire) had demonstrated that the Tribunal was part of a community of international courts and tribunals which took into account existing jurisprudence. Both delimitation cases had been dealt with swiftly. The Tribunal had also had the opportunity to demonstrate its expertise in cases relating to the arrest and detention of vessels, as well as claims for damages resulting from allegedly illegal arrests and detentions, he said, citing several relevant cases brought before the court.
The Tribunal might also have new roles to play as the world turned its attention to the upcoming negotiations on the development of an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, he said. In particular, legal issues that emerged from the new instrument could be addressed through the Tribunal, through both its contentious jurisdiction and advisory functions.
MICHAEL LODGE, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, recalled that in 1970, the General Assembly had set aside the seabed and ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction as the common heritage of mankind, adding that the Area had been managed through the Authority since the Convention entered into force. Reviewing activities of the Authority over the past year, he noted that it had participated in major conferences, including the United Nations Ocean Conference in June.
The comprehensive legal regime set out in part XI of the Convention provided an ideal platform for the Authority to make important contributions towards the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, he said. To that end, the Authority had registered seven voluntary commitments, with a special emphasis on supporting small island developing States, landlocked least developed countries and African States to build capacity, promote marine scientific research and encourage gender‑based approaches to deep ocean sciences.
As recognized in operative paragraph 64 of the draft resolution, a priority for the Authority was to adopt regulations for the exploitation of marine mineral resources in the area, he said. That was critical, as the Council of the Authority had granted extensions to the exploration contracts held by the former pioneer investors on the basis that they would be in a position to proceed to exploitation. That would not be possible without exploitation regulations that were commercially viable and set the highest standards for the protection of the marine environment. To that aim, he urged States to provide comments on the draft regulations by 20 December.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Assembly then adopted the draft resolution, “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/72/L.12) by a recorded vote of 126 in favour to 1 against (United States) with 3 abstentions (El Salvador, Turkey, Venezuela).
Turning to the draft resolution, “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/72/L.18), the Assembly adopted the text by a recorded vote of 128 in favour to 1 against (Turkey) with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela).
The representative of Turkey, speaking in explanation of position on both draft resolutions, said her delegation had voted against the text on oceans and the Law of the Sea, as it contained references to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to which Turkey was not a party. That Convention was not universal, she said, adding that other agreements governing the management of the ocean also existed. Parties should be more constructive and flexible in taking into account the views of non‑Parties, she said, noting that the reasons why Turkey had decided not to become a party to the Convention remained valid. In particular, the Convention did not provide sufficient safeguards for countries in special situations, or take into account the particular circumstances of States. In addition, it did not allow its States parties to register reservations to its content.
Turning to the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, she said Turkey had abstained in that vote. While Turkey was committed to the sustainable management, conservation and use of marine resources, and had joined the consensus on the annual text in the past, due to the nature of the references made to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, it had voted against the draft. Turkey was not a party to that Convention and was of the opinion that it was neither universal nor the only legal framework that regulated activities in the oceans.
The representative of El Salvador said the ocean was critical to ensure food security for all people of the world. Citing gaps in the existing legal frameworks in such areas as fisheries, transport and the sustainable use of marine biodiversity, he noted that, although El Salvador was a non‑Party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, he believed agreements emanating from the Assembly should take into account the norms of general international law.
Moreover, the Assembly’s agreements should not create obligations for States that were not parties to the Convention without their consent, he continued. Noting that various administrative aspects of the debate belonged more appropriately in the Assembly of States Parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, rather than in the General Assembly, he called for cooperation among all nations of the world to implement the 2030 Agenda in a cross‑cutting manner with no one left behind. Indeed, the resources from the ocean floors should be used in a truly just and equitable way, benefiting all nations of the world, especially developing countries.
The representative of Venezuela said that, in regards to the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, her country was a party to international instruments advocating for the preservation of fisheries. Nevertheless, the Convention should not be the only legal framework governing all activities in the oceans and sea; there were other instruments in the field. She also voiced her objection to the possibility of the Convention being invoked as international customary law. Unlike other multinational instruments, the Convention did not enjoy universal participation. The agriculture and fisheries sector were a national priority for Venezuela, and it had a national development plan towards that end. As her country was not a State party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea or the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, her delegation had abstained on that draft.
It was for those very same reasons that her delegation had also abstained from the draft text on oceans and the Law of the Sea as well, she continued. Overall, oceans and seas were a priority for her Government, as reflected in its national legislation. Venezuela had met its international obligations and had advocated for its development from the standpoint of equity. During negotiations, her delegation had tried to achieve consensus on the resolution. However, it was not possible in the face of certain stances, she said, adding that she was hopeful that solutions could be found and that her Government would continue to work with others. Nonetheless, while the draft had positive aspects, it contained elements that had led to abstaining.
The representative of Argentina, noting that his delegation had voted in favour of the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, said none of its contents relating to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement could be interpreted as creating obligations for States that had not expressly accepted them. Existing international law did not compel countries that were not parties to the Agreement to comply with its provisions. Moreover, no such provisions could infringe on the rights of coastal States over their own continental shelves.
The representative of Colombia, citing his country’s adjacency to two oceans and its long‑standing commitment to their sustainable management, said he had voted in favour of both resolutions, guided by a firm belief that all countries had the obligation to safeguard the oceans and their resources. Building sustainable fisheries at the global level was critical to future generations. However, both texts contained wording that his Government did not share regarding the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was not the only governance framework on the ocean. Colombia complied strictly with all the international agreements it had ratified, which did not include that Convention. Therefore, the text and participation in its adoption must not be interpreted as an express or tacit acceptance of the Convention, he said, adding that Colombia remained unbound by its contents.
The representative of the United States said he had called for the vote on the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, as he strongly rejected the references in paragraphs 119 and 120 to the World Trade Organization. It had done so with regret, he said, noting that his delegation continued to support the rest of the resolution.
The representative of the European Union delegation expressed regret that, despite all efforts in the consultations process on the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, a vote had been necessary. That annual text had historically been adopted by consensus, she said, expressing hope that it would once again happen in the future.