Yeosu, Republic of Korea

12 August 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at Law of Sea conference and launch of UN Oceans Compact [as prepared for delivery]

I am delighted to be here.  
I commend the Government of the Republic of Korea and the city of Yeosu for organizing this spectacular Expo to raise awareness about the importance of seas and oceans to all aspects of our life on this planet.
And I am honoured to join you to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

In Korean, we have a saying – “samsip yilip” -- that “thirty is the age when one establishes a firm ground within the family, the society and studies.”  
It means that after 30 years, a person is not easily swayed since the mind is firm and steady. It is the age when a person has established the foundations that will guide every aspect of his or her life.
The Convention on the Law of the Sea has reached this point.  It is accepted as the legal framework that guides every aspect of our management of the oceans and seas and the activities that take place on and beneath them.
When the Convention was opened for signature in 1982, it was rightly characterized as a “constitution for the oceans”.  
This living monument to international cooperation – negotiated by more than 150 States -- is among the world’s most significant legal instruments.
Allow me here to acknowledge the profound contribution of Ambassador Tommy Koh.
As President of the third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, his able leadership and diplomatic skills, were instrumental in creating the legacy we are celebrating today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The progressive development of the Law of the Sea through the Convention and related instruments over the past three decades has provided a flexible and evolving framework.  
It has guided us through the settlement of disputes, the delineation of the outer limits of the extended continental shelf, and the administration of the resources of the international seabed.
It contributes to international peace and security, the equitable and efficient use of ocean resources, the protection and preservation of the marine environment and the realization of a just and equitable economic order.  
In short, the Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important tool for sustainable development, something that was affirmed this year by the Rio+20 Conference.
Among its principles, the Law of the Sea recognizes that all ocean issues are related and that they need to be addressed as a whole.
Most of the oceans are beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.  From the seabed to the surface, States benefit from these vast expanses.
As scientists explore the oceans at ever greater depths they continue to discover new forms of marine life with untold potential for medicines, food and other uses.  
From pole to pole, great fishing grounds feed towns and cities.
And on the ocean waves, trade continues as it has for thousands of years – our principal means of moving vast amounts of goods from nation to nation.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea helps us to manage these common assets.
Yet, ladies and gentlemen, if we are to fully benefit from the oceans, we must address a multitude of threats.  
A disturbing growth in criminal activities, especially piracy, has serious implications for the security of navigation and the safety of seafarers.  
Irregular migration by sea and poor labour conditions for seafarers are further urgent issues.
And above all, with implications for all, is the precarious state of the marine environment.
The seas and oceans host some of the most vulnerable and important ecosystems on Earth. But the diversity of life they host is under ever-increasing strain.  
Pollution and over-exploitation of marine living resources pose a grave threat.
Coral reefs and fisheries, in particular, are under pressure.
And there is the growing menace of climate change.
Our oceans are heating and expanding.  We risk irrevocable changes in processes that we barely comprehend, such as the great currents that affect weather patterns.
Ocean acidification is eating into the very basis of ocean life; and sea level rise threatens to re-draw the global map at the expense of hundreds of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.
This major test for the international community has been at the top of my priority list since I became Secretary-General because of its implications for all humankind.  
I look forward to continued progress towards a legally binding framework to save our planet from runaway climate change in Doha in November.
But, ladies and gentlemen, there is much we can do, here and now, to improve the state of our seas and oceans.
This Expo is evidence of the innovation, technology and commitment that is available.
What we need is to create new momentum for ocean sustainability.
That is why I have decided to launch, today, a new initiative to strengthen United Nations system-wide work on oceans matters and support the implementation of the Law of the Sea.  
The Oceans Compact sets out a strategic vision for the UN System to deliver more coherently and effectively on its oceans-related mandates, consistent with the Rio+20 outcome.
It provides a platform for all stakeholders to collaborate towards achieving “Healthy Oceans for Prosperity.”  
The Compact has three inter-related objectives to advance this goal.
The first is “Protecting people and improving the health of the oceans.”
The second focuses on “Protecting, recovering and sustaining the oceans’ environment and natural resources, and restoring their full food production and livelihoods services.”
The third deals with “Strengthening ocean knowledge and the management of oceans.”
Realizing the objectives of the Oceans Compact will require the implementation of an integrated and results-oriented Action Plan.
To elaborate the Plan, to facilitate stakeholder dialogue and to catalyze support, I propose to create an Ocean Advisory Group of high-level policy-makers, scientists and leading ocean experts, representatives from the private sector and civil society and Executive Heads of involved UN system organizations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You have all received a copy of the Compact.  I count on you to support its implementation.  And I urge you to continue to raise awareness about oceans issues and the Law of the Sea.
It is thirty years since the Convention was opened for signature, yet it has not been ratified by all who have signed it.
Just as the oceans span our blue planet, let us make it our goal to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty.
By working together for one common goal we can achieve healthy oceans for prosperity and sustainable development for all.
Thank you.