Anticipated Watershed Year for Negotiations on Conserving Marine Biological Diversity, Other World Ocean Issues, Delayed by COVID‑19 Pandemic, Delegates Say
The General Assembly adopted a draft resolution today on sustainable fisheries, and postponed action on a second text on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as delegates reflected on how the COVID‑19 pandemic derailed what should have been a watershed year for international action on the world’s oceans.
Acting without a vote, it 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”.
By its terms, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of the long‑term conservation, management and sustainable use of living marine ocean resources and State obligations to cooperate to this end. It urged States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.
Through the 43‑page text, it urged States to address the impacts of global climate change and ocean acidification on coral reefs and other ecosystems relevant to fisheries. It also called upon them to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing — a major threat to fish stocks and marine ecosystems as well as to food security and economic development in many developing States.
The Assembly postponed action on the omnibus draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” to enable its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to review its programme budget implications. That text would, among other things, have the world body reaffirm the unified character of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the vital importance of preserving its integrity.
Norway’s representative, introducing the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, said that it was, to a large extent, a technical rollover of last year’s text, negotiated through virtual meetings and written communications. Delegations agreed that updates should be limited to those required for forthcoming missions, issues with budgetary implications and mandate renewals.
Singapore’s representative, introducing the draft text on oceans and the law of the sea, similarly described it as a technical rollover of last year’s resolution. Changes were limited to those sections dealing with meetings to be held in 2021 as well as mandate renewals. The text also touched upon pandemic‑related issues, such as the plight of seafarers, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates said that COVID‑19 upset what should have been a “super year” for ocean issues, including the postponement of the second United Nations Ocean Conference and the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Both events now are expected to take place in 2021, coinciding with the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Belize’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that the pandemic has clarified global priorities and sparked greater cooperation. Any truly successful approach to COVID‑19 recovery must involve environmentally and scientifically informed efforts to ensure more sustainable ocean activities that will tackle climate change and the need for equitable enjoyment of ocean resources, she said.
Barbados’ representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the impacts of the pandemic are steering attention away from the conservation and sustainable use of oceans while also bringing CARICOM economies to a virtual halt. With the 2020 hurricane season producing around 30 named storms in the Caribbean, she said that evidence‑based and proactive decision‑making will be fundamental to build resilience in the region.
Australia’s delegate, advocating for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law, was among several speakers raising concerns about the South China Sea and freedom of navigation. While Canberra is not taking sides on competing territorial claims in the area, it does oppose maritime claims that are inconsistent with the Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.
China’s representative proposed that States establish “blue partnerships” — which foster shared benefits, ensure the complementarity of marine industry and maritime safety and security — and settle disputes through dialogue. He added that Beijing takes a zero‑tolerance approach to illegal fishing and that it is considering acceding to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.
Fiji’s representative called climate change the most significant threat to the Blue Pacific. Stressing that maritime boundaries, once determined, cannot be affected by changes arising from human action, he said that to do otherwise would be the equivalent of asking the victim of a crime to compensate the perpetrators.
Mexico’s representative said that his country is committed to improving the health of marine ecosystems through global initiatives aimed at addressing ghost fishing. He added that the international community must avoid overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Canada’s representative, whose country boasts the world’s longest coastline, said that the world is not only facing a health and economic crisis, but also an environmental crisis. “We need to adopt a blue lens,” he said, emphasizing that economic recovery and environmental protection must go hand-in-hand.
Also speaking today were representatives of Argentina, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, Monaco, Maldives, Philippines, Costa Rica, Iran, Brazil, Viet Nam, United States, Germany, Nauru, India, Japan, Iceland, France, Honduras, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Ukraine, Chile and Indonesia, as well as the European Union.
An observer for the International Seabed Authority also spoke.
Representatives of Turkey, Venezuela and Colombia spoke in explanation of position.
The representatives of China, Malaysia, Argentina and the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 December, to take action on a draft resolution on the situation in Afghanistan, and at 3 p.m. to consider reports from its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said that the Assembly had before it today two draft resolutions, titled “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/75/L.39) and “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/75/L.40). However, he added, action on “L.39” would be postponed to a later date to allow time for the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to review its programme budget implications.
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), introducing “L.39” on oceans and the law of the sea, described the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as one of the most important legal instruments ever and a reminder of what multilateralism can achieve. Noting that his delegation coordinated consultations on “L.39”, he said that due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, negotiations were carried out by correspondence and through virtual meetings in October and November on the understanding that the draft would be a technical rollover of the resolution adopted by the Assembly at its seventy‑fourth session. Apart from technical updates, changes were limited to sections dealing with meetings to be held in 2021, mandate renewals and references to the pandemic. Detailing the changes, he said that the draft underscores the challenges faced by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and its trust fund, which enables developing States to participate in its work. The draft also notes calls made regarding the plight of seafarers stemming from the impact of the pandemic, and notes with appreciation the implementation plan for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development that begins on 1 January 2021. Finally, the draft welcomes and takes note of the second World Ocean Assessment. While a vote might be called on the draft, hopefully it can be adopted by consensus, he said.
Speaking in his national capacity and associating himself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), he said that 2020 was supposed to be a super year for the ocean. However, the pandemic led to the cancellation of major events, complicated efforts to address several issues and raised new concerns, including the plight of thousands of seafarers stranded on their vessels due to travel restrictions. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on global trade and supply chains, he said, adding that Singapore is facilitating crew changes in a manner that safeguards public health, ships and seafarers. He emphasized that small island States such as Singapore can take heart from the fact that the pandemic has not impeded progress on ocean‑related issues. The past year has seen progress in filling knowledge gaps, including discussions in the Sixth Committee (Legal) on sea level rise. While the Fourth Intergovernmental Conference on an 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 was postponed, but dialogue on a future instrument continued on a virtual basis. He went on to note that his country has concluded a model agreement with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, enabling it to host Tribunal hearings. Hopefully, that agreement will encourage more countries in the region to submit disputes to the Tribunal.
ODD-INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) introduced “L.40” on sustainable fisheries, said that due to the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic, the draft resolution — negotiated through virtual meetings and written procedures — is, to a large extent, a technical rollover of last year’s text. Delegations agreed that updates should be limited to those required for forthcoming missions, issues with budgetary implications and mandate renewals. Pointing to the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources, he said that the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, opened for signature 25 years ago, is the cornerstone of contemporary fisheries management. This year also marked the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Nevertheless, one out of five fish caught around the world is thought to originate from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, valued at $10 billion to $23 billion a year. Effective global implementation of the Agreement on Port State Measures is a cost‑effective way to curb such fishing, he said, calling upon States that have not done so to become parties to that Agreement.
Commenting on “L.39”, he said that the text reaffirms once again the universal and unified character of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides an indispensable framework for the sustainable use of marine resources, protection of the marine environment, shipping safety and security, international and regional cooperation and marine science. He added that for Norway, a well‑functioning Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is a priority. Voluntary trust funds to defray the cost of participation of developing States must be strengthened, he said, welcoming an ongoing assessment into how those funds can be used for remote meetings. Noting the work of the Ocean Panel, he said that the essence of its recommendations is that the world must change its mindset when managing the oceans. They can provide more food, jobs and other benefits, but only if they are properly managed and protected. Turning to the question of a new instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, he said that a new regime governing marine genetic resources should be pragmatic, cost‑effective and practical. That regime should also secure access to benefit‑sharing, particularly for developing countries.
SHARON LINDO (Belize), speaking on behalf of the AOSIS, pointed to various problems, from sea level rise to the collapse of marine biodiversity, that imperil humanity’s collective future. The Secretary‑General’s latest report on the oceans and the law of the sea details how the simultaneous shocks of COVID‑19 and the deterioration of ocean health have affected States’ ability to ensure food security and finance national development priorities, she said. While noting the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on small island developing States, she added: “This unexpected cataclysm has clarified our global priorities and sparked increased cooperation.” Calling for holistic national and international efforts, she said the international community must seek to mitigate future harm by building back better. Any truly successful approach to COVID‑19 recovery must involve environmentally and scientifically informed efforts to ensure more sustainable ocean activities that will tackle climate change and the need for equitable enjoyment of ocean resources, she said.
Small island developing States are already working on the plan to build back better, she said, adding that they are actively engaged in the negotiations for a new marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction treaty and are also strengthening their capacities to not only implement but benefit from this treaty. Further, the bloc has pushed for international focus on the impacts of climate change on oceans, which has resulted in the inclusion of sea level rise in the International Law Commission’s programme of work. Looking forward to the United Nations Ocean Conference in 2021, she voiced regret about the lack of progress since the last conference in 2017. Only one of 10 targets from Goal 14 on life below water has been met, she said, as she called for renewed efforts to reach all targets as soon as possible. Pointing out that small island developing States have “thousands of years of accrued traditional knowledge about the oceans as well as capable and dedicated researchers that can contribute to innovative perspectives,” she urged States to approach social, economic and environmental challenges with innovative thinking, political drive and the spirit of cooperation.
JULIETTE ROSITA RILEY (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and aligning with AOSIS, noted that the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic have been diverting attention from the conservation of sustainable use of oceans. The pandemic has brought CARICOM economies to a virtual halt, with severe consequences on the tourism industry, she noted, also adding that the impact on the global economy, including global supply and value chains, is expected to significantly delay the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14 and its related targets. Also voicing concern about the effects of the pandemic on seafarers in particular, she said that the destabilization caused by the pandemic will not compare to the devastation that will be caused by climate change if no decisive action is taken. Thanking the Secretary‑General for his continued efforts to put the climate crisis front and center of the international agenda, she called for increased momentum on combating climate change through ambitious national determined contributions and long‑term climate strategies.
Noting that the 2020 hurricane season has seen around 30 named storms leading to unprecedented flooding in her region, she stressed that evidence‑based and proactive decision‑making will be fundamental to transforming Caribbean societies from vulnerable to resilient. Looking forward to the convening of the Climate Ambitions Summit later this month, she urged States to take decisive steps to ensure that “we achieve our goal of 1.5 to stay alive.” Voicing regret at the postponement of the Fourth Intergovernmental Conference, she called on delegates to arrive at a groundbreaking agreement that will help the international community better manage areas Beyond National jurisdiction. It is vital that the new marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction agreement include provisions that recognize the special circumstances of small island developing States, including modalities and mechanisms for effective capacity building and transfer of marine technology, she said, emphasizing the need to strike the right balance between conservation and sustainable use.
SILVIO GONZATO, European Union, said that finalizing the negotiation of the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction treaty is a political priority. The status and health of the oceans is not improving, he observed, noting that they continue to face challenges from the impacts of climate change, pollution — including from microplastics, excessive nutrients, and anthropogenic underwater noise, overfishing and illegal fishing — and continued biodiversity loss. Recovery strategies to address COVID‑19’s socioeconomic impacts should aim at keeping oceans healthy and productive, fighting climate change, halting biodiversity loss, as well as tackling hunger and poverty. “There is no ‘either or’”, he said, stressing that everyone must tackle these challenges during the recovery to become more resilient to future shocks. Moreover, sustainable ocean economies and the blue economy, have become increasingly important to help many countries achieve their development aspirations. Drawing attention to another challenge to ocean sustainability: harmful subsidies which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, he recognized the important role seafarers and fishers play in providing States with goods, including the medicines and equipment used to fight the COVID‑19 pandemic as well as food.
MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia) stressed the importance of the oceans for economic security and livelihoods in the region, advocating for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. The Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out clear rules consistent with these objectives and a legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. The Convention provides a foundation for international peace, security and stability and it is particularly vital in the South China Sea. While “Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea,” he said it opposes maritime claims that are inconsistent with the Convention. He further expressed concern about destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, including the militarization of disputed features or actions to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities. Commending the ongoing efforts of the International Seabed Authority to progress draft regulations with deep sea mining exploitation of the area, he underscored the importance of robust regulation to ensure the protection of the marine environment. Australia strongly supports the development of implementing a marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction treaty, he said, adding that the new agreement will help establish new high seas marine protection areas.
GENG SHUANG (China) said a stronger ocean governance regime to properly develop, protect and maintain the blue planet is needed. All parties must pool their wisdom, hold joint consultations, and strive to eliminate gaps and improve rules of ocean governance. He called for restoring and protecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity while ensuring a high‑quality marine economy‑ through the orderly use of marine resources. States should establish “blue partnerships” — which foster shared benefits, ensure the complementarity of marine industry and maritime safety and security — and settle disputes through dialogue. Negotiations for a marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction agreement must strike a concrete and reasonable balance between exploitation and environmental protection, including for deep sea mineral exploitation. China supports the important role played by the International Seabed Authority and the Commission. Turning to the Convention he underscored the need to adhere to State consent and facilitate the settlement of long‑term disputes. He outlined measures taken by China to foster the rational, sustainable use of fishery resources, including through the enforcement of a summertime fishing moratorium, and a fishing moratorium on the high seas. China conducts monitoring operations to combat illegal fishing “with zero tolerance”, he stressed. China is also presently considering acceding to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina) said that although the Intergovernmental Conference has been postponed, intersessional work must continue to maintain the current momentum on negotiations. Moreover, States must cooperate to eliminate and punish the illicit traffic of the flora and fauna of the sea, in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. She expressed concern about the conditions of service of the Commission’s members, stressing that it must have resources, in line with the importance of its work. Argentina actively participates in the International Seabed Authority and is working to expand knowledge of the sea, eliminate subsidies to prevent illegal fishing and overfishing and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14. It has created marine protected areas. Turning to article 77 of the Convention on the rights of coastal States over the continental shelf, she emphasized the sovereign rights of such States over conservation and management, including through steps to preserve the ecosystem, such as those targeting the activities of bottom‑trawling gear on the high seas. Argentina has created a federal fisheries regime through a pioneering law and employs an approach which promotes sustainable use of the entire ecosystem, in addition to the management of target species. It has created a plan to reduce the interaction of sharks, birds and marine mammals with fisheries. She expressed concern about a trend to legitimize efforts by regional fisheries management in ways that exceed their material and geographic scope. “Our maritime areas represent 6.7 million square kilometers and ensuring the sovereignty of this crucial geostrategic area is a standing goal,” she said.
RABAB FATIMA (Bangladesh) noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic has not only affected seafarers, but also the world’s 9.4 million fishermen, 90 per cent of whom are in developing countries. Underscoring the impact of sea level rise on low‑lying coastal countries like hers, she emphasized that “the solution lies with us,” including the timely and effective implementation of provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is also imperative to ensure an early conclusion of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. She called for a redoubling of international cooperation on maritime security issues, including the large‑scale and precarious movement of migrants and refugees by sea, as well as capacity‑building and technical assistance for developing countries as they implement the Convention and other policies and frameworks.
AMY LOIS TOWNSEND (United Kingdom) welcomed the fact that the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea reaffirms the universal and unified character of the Convention. The second World Ocean Assessment is particularly timely as well, given the start of the Decade of Ocean Science, though the United Kingdom regrets that Argentina insisted on importing a political disagreement into a scientific report. Emphasizing the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight, she said that there are no legal grounds for continental States to disregard the Convention with regards to archipelagic areas. Turning to sustainable fisheries, she said that the Fish Stocks Agreement remains a vital instrument that sets out that fisheries management must be based on a precautionary approach and the best available science.
FLORIAN BOTTO (Monaco), noting that despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, the international community has made significant strides, pointed to the fact that the oceans have remained at the heart of the United Nations agenda. He applauded the ambition demonstrated by several States and highlighted the many virtual events and webinars that tackled a wide range of subjects relevant to oceans and Sustainable Development Goal 14. This is a new practice which should continue into the future, he said, stressing that the challenges facing the oceans, climate change and biodiversity are all interlinked. Calling for resolute ambition and worldwide action, he listed the many existential threats affecting oceans, including ocean acidification, coral bleaching, deoxygenation, ice melts, sea level rise and microplastic pollution as well as overfishing and illegal fishing. Also stressing the links between the oceans and human health, he called for a realistic approach to the conservation of marine resources and biodiversity, during the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction treaty negotiations. Without effective conservation the international community will not be able to sustainably exploit our oceans now or in the future, he cautioned.
ROBERT RAE (Canada) said that while COVID‑19 affects health, economies and many aspects of daily life, the international community cannot lose sight of the vital importance of the world’s oceans. Canada remains firmly committed to finalizing a strong, effective marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction agreement on making further progress towards finalizing an agreement that effectively supports the conservation and sustainable management of ocean resources. He noted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has joined 13 other Heads of State and Government releasing the “Transformations for a sustainable ocean economy” document, outlining an action agenda for protection, production and prosperity. The Government has announced up to $9.5 million in funding for the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021‑2030) to foster a coordinated global approach, and $2.7 million to support its work as Champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Observations. As Canada is an ocean nation, with the world’s longest coastline, the country has exceeded the objective set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to protect 10 per cent of its marine and coastal areas and is working towards protecting 30 per cent by 2030. Along with the global health and economic crisis, the world also faces an environmental crisis and “we need to adopt a blue lens”, he said, as economic recovery and environmental protection must go hand‑in‑hand.
HASSAN HUSSAIN SHIHAB (Maldives), aligning himself with AOSIS, pointed out that 2020 will likely be one of the three warmest years on record, resulting in coral bleaching that endangers the marine ecosystem. This phenomenon — along with an increase in water temperatures, ocean acidification and deterioration of the marine environment — threatens serious damage to the tourism and fishing industries in the Maldives. For its part, the Maldives will phase out single‑use plastics by 2023 and has established more than 70 protected areas throughout its national waters. Welcoming the International Law Commission’s first issues paper on sea‑level rise in relation to international law, he said that there exists State practice and increasing opinio juris in freezing maritime baselines and the outer limits of maritime zones. He added that the international financial mechanisms gradually developing to address climate change are not fully responsive to the needs of small island developing States, especially in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact of climate change.
KIRA DANGANAN AZUCENA (Philippines), pointing out that her country is one of the world’s top providers of seafarers, said that many have lost their livelihoods due to the COVID‑19 pandemic and others remain stranded at sea, unable to repatriate due to restrictions port States imposed in response to the virus. Further, rising sea levels in the Philippines are three times the global average and marine plastic pollution is an urgent, global problem. As a party to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, Manila is committed to the conservation of and sustainable access to highly migratory fish stocks and to eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, along with subsidies that encourage over‑fishing and lead to the irreversible decline of marine life. She also affirmed the universal, unified character of the Convention, which sets out the legal framework governing activities in the oceans and seas and is essential to the rule of law.
ANA LORENA VILLALOBOS BRENES (Costa Rica) said the draft resolutions under consideration reaffirm important principles such as freedom of the high seas and the right of innocent passage, as well as obligations to bilateral, regional and international cooperation. They also take up important mandates concerning the conservation of oceans and the sustainable use of marine resources, she said, calling the current moment “a point of no return in the climate crisis.” Highlighting severe problems such as acidification and sea level rise, she stressed that extreme meteorological events have especially affected the countries of Central America. “We want future generations to enjoy the oceans as we have done,” she said, voicing support for holding virtual informal consultations before the conference on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction and expressing the hope that next year’s resolutions will focus more on easing the pressure of human activity on the health of oceans.
MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran) said that the Convention is not the only legal framework covering activities carried out in the oceans and seas. Calling for an inclusive vision and constructive engagement among a wider number of countries in supporting the resolutions, he stressed that Iran does not view the Convention as a legally binding instrument. Iran’s marine activities strictly adhere to those international instruments it has expressly accepted, he said, highlighting his country’s commitment to realizing Sustainable Development Goal 14. States and other stakeholders must make much greater efforts to strengthen international cooperation and transfer technology to developing countries. Nearly all the Iranian inhabitants of the northern coast of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman are heavily dependent on marine resources. Iran is vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events and suffers from the adverse effects of maritime pollution. The destruction of maritime habitat exacerbates the safety and security of coastal States, he said, calling on States to refrain from unilateral acts that might endanger the marine environment. He supported development of a legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. He condemned the unilateral coercive measures of the United States, which have negatively impacted the daily lives of Iranian people in the situation of the COVID‑19 pandemic.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) warned about the impact of human activity on the oceans and noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic prevented States from holding several important events this year. Underscoring Brazil’s strong efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14, he stressed the importance of addressing in a balanced manner questions related to access and utilization of marine genetic resources, including benefit‑sharing and capacity‑building. States should require ships to observe the tracking systems of coastal States when in transit through an exclusive economic zone, in order to ensure effective implementation of the Convention’s provisions related to the obligations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment and to notify all imminent or actual damage, as enshrined in the articles 194 and 198. In 2019, more than 3,600 kilometres of the Brazilian coast suffered damage due to oil spilled from a vessel that sought to avoid detection, a so‑called dark ship. Over 5,000 tons of crude oil was collected during months of work and this incident caused severe consequences to the marine environment and to thousands of Brazilians who rely on the oceans for their livelihoods. Next year, Brazil will prioritize this matter in the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), he said.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) welcomed the final draft of the World Ocean Assessment report, which emphasized the importance of full respect for implementing the Convention, and its focus on cooperation on protecting the marine environment. Joint action is needed to mitigate the impact of climate change and sea level rise, which States including Viet Nam are vulnerable to. The legal implications of sea level rise must be dealt with during the Open‑ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. Turning to the South China Sea, he noted that freedom of navigation in the region has been a common concern and interest during the COVID‑19 pandemic. He expressed concern about serious incidents in the area, which infringed upon the rights of States in defiance of the Convention and urged all concerned parties to “enhance mutual trust, exercise restraint, and refrain from expansion, militarization and maritime claims”. He called for a peaceful solution in accordance with international laws, including the United Nations Charter and Convention. At the same time, Viet Nam noted encouraging progress in negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
JENNIFER YUE BARBER (United States), underscoring the central importance of international law as reflected in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, said that the freedom of the seas is especially threatened in the South and East China Seas. “The assertion of unlawful and sweeping maritime claims … threatens the rules‑based international order that has enable the region to prosper,” she said. Emphasizing that the rights and interests of all nations, regardless of size, power and military capabilities, must be respected, she called on all States to resolve their disputes peacefully and free from coercion and to respect the freedom of navigation and overflight. On other issues, she underscored the critical role of the World Ocean Assessment in contributing to science‑based policymaking and in informing Member States of the pressures faced by the ocean. Turning to fisheries, she said that the United States will continue to call for flag States to take responsibility for inadequately controlled fishing activities, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and to adopt more robust management measures where needed in regional fisheries management organizations.
GUENTER SAUTTER (Germany), aligning himself with the European Union, emphasized the need to maintain the integrity of the Convention, and to uphold the rights of innocent passage, enable the peaceful settlement of disputes and strengthen bilateral cooperation on the conservation of living resources and the preservation of the marine environment. Germany is committed to concluding a marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction agreement, “ideally” next year. Turning to maritime claims made, including in the South China Sea, he recalled the Convention’s exhaustive specific conditions for the application of straight archipelagic baselines and the application of regimes on islands and rocks, adding that there is no legal ground to treat marine features as a whole entity, according to relevant provisions of the Convention. There is also no legal basis for States to claim historic rights over zones, as confirmed by the award issued 12 July 2016 by the arbitral tribunal constituted under the Convention, he said. “Germany has persistently expressed this position without prejudice,” he emphasized. He called for States’ freedoms and rights to be upheld, and for the promotion of regional and international cooperation as set out in the Convention.
MARGO DEIYE (Nauru), associating herself with AOSIS, said that as a big ocean State, Nauru is highly dependent on marine resources for its sustenance and economic development. “Conservation and sustainable use of the ocean is paramount if States like mine are to continue to survive,” she stressed. As economies recover from the COVID‑19 pandemic, Governments could build back better by ensuring that they do not incentivize activities that endanger the oceans. This includes the important work on subsidies taking place at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Noting the considerable progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, to eliminate subsidies leading to overfishing, she said Governments must continue to work together to negotiate a solution to harmful subsidies as soon as possible in 2021. It is also important to conclude, at the next intergovernmental conference, a marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction treaty, which will enable the establishment of effective, cross‑sectoral marine protected areas to maintain global ocean health. Other priorities include ambitious marine targets and a timely development of a regulatory regime from the International Seabed Authority. Highlighting the importance of data transparency for fisheries, she noted that the parties to the Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Interest have helped maintain healthy tuna stocks in the region, thanks to “100 per cent observer coverage of vessels”. However, this requirement has been suspended during the pandemic due to health concerns.
UMASANKAR YEDLA (India) said that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of preserving ecosystems and biodiversity, “and marine biodiversity is no exception.” With a 7,500‑kilometre coastline and more than 1,000 islands, and with one third of its population living along the coast, India is acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that oceans represent. Emphasizing India’s concern with illegal fishing and piracy, he said that the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia has contributed significantly in controlling piracy in the Western Indian Ocean. “We cannot allow our seas to turn into zones of contention,” he added, calling for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo‑Pacific, based upon respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, the peaceful resolution of disputes and adherence to international rules and laws. It is clearly unacceptable that the decisions of international judicial bodies are not being respected or given effect to by countries, he said, calling on all Member States to respect the rule of law at the international level.
SATYENDRA PRASAD (Fiji), aligning himself with AOSIS, said that climate change is the most significant threat to the Blue Pacific, holding hostage the development progress of island States while threatening their food security, livelihood and economies. International law — particularly the Convention on the Law of the Sea — provides the basis for determining maritime boundaries and entitlements, and the International Law Commission’s work in this area is of great interest to those States facing growing pressure from rising sea levels, as coastal communities “look to international law for comfort.” Stressing that maritime boundaries, once determined, cannot be affected by changes arising from human action, he said that to do otherwise would be the equivalent of asking the victim of a crime to compensate the perpetrators. He added that Fiji and other Pacific States are facing a double impact from human action on their fishing industry, disproportionately affecting women living in coastal communities: because of warming seas, fish are migrating to colder waters and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing places growing pressure on what fish stocks remain.
PABLO ADRIÁN ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico) pointed out that the ocean is a pillar of the global economy, the source of livelihood for more than 3 million people, is the heart of the global exchange of goods and “is the principal lung of Mother Earth.” Noting Mexico’s strong maritime tradition, he said that his country champions the sustainable use of maritime resources. He also underscored the contributions made by the Convention and its role in establishing an equitable, universal legal framework in this area, along with urging the importance of negotiating a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Turning to the issue of ghost fishing, he said that Mexico commits to improving the health of marine ecosystems through global initiatives aimed at addressing this form of plastic pollution. He added that the international community must avoid overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to reduce pressure on the ocean and “bolster resilience in a changing world,” detailing national efforts to this end.
KAWASE TARO (Japan), stressing the importance of a predictable maritime order based on the Convention on the Law of the Sea, said his delegation is co‑sponsoring the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea. However, he said, some recent developments go against the rule of law over the oceans of the world, as well as the universality and comprehensiveness of the Convention. All maritime claims must be based on the relevant provisions of the Convention, which is the basis for determining legitimate rights and interests over maritime zones. It is unacceptable to make legal assertions as if there were a general international law to override matters comprehensively covered under the Convention, he said, adding that all maritime disputes should be peacefully resolved based on international law, and not by force.
JÖRUNDUR VALTÝSSON (Iceland) said the pandemic has taken its toll on international cooperation, with a year expected to be major for ocean events, conferences and treaty-making instead becoming one of status quo. However, the crisis has also taught the international community how to improve navigation skills in the virtual world, and the need for international cooperation in this field has never been more urgent. As fisheries have always been a fundamental pillar in the Icelandic economy, he noted a long‑standing policy of science‑based environmental protection and sustainable use of living marine resources, which can only be maintained in harmony with other nations. The new agreement within the remit of WTO prohibiting fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, will be a welcome step, he said, looking forward to its conclusion in the near future. Meantime, Iceland has committed to achieving carbon neutrality before 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent before 2030 under the Paris Agreement, stepping up these commitments under the updated Icelandic Climate Action Plan of 2020.
BRICE FODDA (France), associating himself with the European Union, said the adoption of the Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 was a decisive milestone in the development of international rules applicable to the oceans. The intention of those who negotiated it was to cover all possible aspects, from the various types of maritime spaces, their limits and related rights of navigation and passage, to the protection and conservation of the marine environments, and of course, settlement of disputes, he recalled. Voicing support for the annual resolution on the law of the sea, he said it recalls the unique scope and universal character of the Convention. Expressing his country’s commitment to the full implementation of that resolution, he said the sustainable management of oceans and cooperation of States are essential for global peace and stability. The Convention also specified the rights and obligations of coastal States and the legal regime governing the waters adjacent to those territories, he said, also expressing appreciation for the work of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), recognizing the Convention as a document of a strategic importance, said the COVID‑19 pandemic has particularly affected countries with fewer resources and more vulnerable populations. Honduras it at acute risk for the damaging effects of climate change, she said, pointing to the consequences of two devastating hurricanes, Etta and Iota. In this context, she called on countries to step up efforts at the global level to counter climate change and ensure that the solutions adopted to tackle the pandemic have a green focus in order to protect the heritage of future generations. Moreover, it is urgent to mitigate the impact of marine pollution, the acidification of water, habitat destruction, overfishing, biodiversity loss and sea‑level rise, she asserted, stressing the need to eliminate the use and disposal of plastic in the seas and oceans. She also reiterated the relevance of ensuring that a legally binding instrument within the framework of the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is established by implementing Sustainable Development Goal 14.
ALEXANDER S. PROSKURYAKOV (Russian Federation) said his country continues to do everything possible to strengthen the authority of the Convention. The importance of the world’s oceans for humanity is constantly increasing and new possibilities for the use of its resources are being discovered, he said, underscoring the need to care for the marine environment. Attaching great importance to the work of the bodies established under the Convention, namely the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf, he advocated for greater resources for the Commission so it can effectively implement its mandate. An issue which deserves particular attention is the preservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, he said, expressing disappointment that this year, due to COVID‑19, the Fourth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on this issue was cancelled. He further called on States to maintain a balanced approach and strive for consensus‑based solutions.
IRINA ALEXANDRA BARBA BUSTOS (Ecuador) said her country has experienced an uptick in threats and challenges to its oceans, particularly illegal, unregulated fishing. She called for strengthened measures to combat such threats, including fishing registers and adherence to the FAO agreement to promote compliance with international conservation and management measures by fishing vessels on the high seas. She also called for the effective management of exclusive economic zones and stressed the need for more research on the aquatic biodiversity of marine reserves. In light of the pandemic, it is necessary to implement environmental policies to safeguard the Galápagos Islands, which is a unique and fragile ecosystem. Support must be given to States undertaking initiatives working to strengthen ocean protection.
OLEKSIY ILNYTSKYI (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said the reduction of maritime activity due to the pandemic has positively impacted marine species and ecosystems. However, the health of the ocean continues to deteriorate. He underscored the need for international cooperation in addressing such problems and noted that the Convention contributes to peace, security and friendly relations between nations, as well as sustainable development, by setting out a legal order. Turning to the ongoing dispute with the Russian Federation, he expressed concern about that country’s blatant violation of Ukraine’s rights under the Convention and other international laws. Since 2016, the Russian Federation has usurped Ukraine’s right to its own maritime waters in the Black Sea, the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, he said. Arbitration in accordance with annex VII of the Convention is under way at the International Tribunal, he said, as well as a recent dispute involving the detention of Ukrainian naval vessels and servicemen.
JOSE JUAN HERNANDEZ CHAVEZ (Chile) said that the Convention on the Law of the Sea is the cornerstone of international law governing marine affairs and is the legal basis for activities conducted on the oceans. The certainty afforded by that instrument as to the marine areas within the legal territory of each State has allowed Chile to establish effective measures to safeguard biodiversity and marine ecosystems; over 35 per cent of its exclusive economic zone constitutes protected marine areas. He also underscored the importance of establishing a new legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, and of ensuring that the management of oceans is informed by the best science available. Expressing concern over the threat that the recurring presence of foreign fishing vessels in national waters poses to protected areas, he called on all States to prevent and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia) said that his country — as the largest archipelagic State and a maritime nation — views both draft resolutions as critical in emphasizing the importance of oceans, the law of the sea, sustainable fisheries and the development of ocean governance. He expressed regret, however, that the pandemic prevented substantive negotiations on either draft in 2020. Commending the incorporation into the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea of international references on the challenges faced by seafarers due to COVID‑19, he highlighted that the shipping industry continues to serve as the backbone of the international economy and global supply chain, transporting more than 80 per cent of world trade. Maritime transport also ensures the delivery of vital medical supplies, food and basic goods critical for pandemic response and recovery. He added that the adoption of this draft resolution by consensus shows the General Assembly’s commitment to recognizing and supporting the role of essential workers around the world who are risking their lives to protect the health and safety of others.
ADI ASENACA NAVOTI, Observer for the International Seabed Authority, speaking on behalf of its Secretary‑General, Michael W. Lodge, said that the work of the Authority has continued relentlessly amid the pandemic, with its Legal and Technical Commission in particular making progress on draft standards and guidelines for deep seabed mining operations. The Authority’s priority task remains the development of regulations for the exploitation of marine minerals beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, she explained. Draft regulations on such exploitation have undergone many rounds of global stakeholder consultations. She drew attention to important progress in implementing the strategy to develop additional regional environmental plans, with the Government of India planning to host a workshop on the topic in 2021. In addition, she said, the Authority has come up with an action plan for its contribution to the Decade of Ocean Science, in light of its mandate on marine scientific research under the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Assembly then took up the resolution entitled, “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/75/L.40).
The representative of the Secretariat noted that, should the Assembly adopt draft resolution A/75/L.40, an estimated $426,800 in additional resource requirements would be included in the proposed programme budget for 2022.
The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.40” without a vote.
Right of Reply
Speaking in explanation of position after the adoption, the representative of Turkey said that while his delegation joined the consensus as an affirmation of the importance of regional cooperation, it disassociates itself from the text’s references to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, specifically the mention of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. The adoption of the text by Turkey is not to be interpreted as a change in the legal position of the country, he said.
The representative of Venezuela noted that his country is not party to the Convention, which contains provisions regarding the conservation and management of highly migratory and straddling fish stocks. The norms contained within this Convention are not applicable to his country customarily or formally, except those which Venezuela’s Government has expressly recognized or will recognize in the future through the incorporation of these provisions into its domestic legislation, he stressed. Underscoring the importance of proper management of fisheries to his country’s national development, he said Venezuela has a wealth of legislation designed to protect and manage its hydrobiological resources.
The representative of Colombia acknowledged the valuable contribution made to fisheries by the resolution on sustainable fisheries but said that the text contains wording his Government cannot agree with, regarding the Convention. This includes the statement that the Convention is the only normative framework that can regulate ocean activities. Consequently, this resolution and Colombia’s participation in the process of its adoption should not be considered to imply the expressed or tacit acceptance by his country of those provisions, he said.
The representative of China, also exercising his right of reply, opposed the irresponsible remarks made by some delegates on the South China Sea. The United Nations is not a proper place to discuss the South China Sea, he said, underscoring that China’s position on the issue has been consistent. China has always been committed to resolving territorial and jurisdictional disputes through negotiations with the countries directly involved, he said, reiterating his country’s commitment to working with ASEAN members and maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. He added that the situation in South China Sea remains stable and it is currently one of the safest maritime passageways in the world; each year more than 100,000 merchant vessels pass through. He further warned against the use of the freedom of navigation by some countries to dispatch warships and military aircrafts in the South China Sea to threaten the sovereignty and security of coastal States.
The representative of Malaysia said her country’s position on the South China Sea remains unchanged. Due to its complexity and sensitivity, the issue must be managed in a peaceful and rational manner, utilizing the appropriate fora and respecting the universally recognized principles of international law, she asserted.
The representative of Argentina said that the request made by her country in the second World Ocean Assessment was to ensure respect for an editorial directive released by the United Nations Secretariat on 3 August 1999.
The representative of the Russian Federation took issue with the politicized cookie‑cutter statements made by Ukraine. “Maritime claims do not relate to the agenda item under discussion, and the General Assembly isn’t the appropriate forum for such matters,” he stressed.