Organizational Session,
AM & PM Meetings

As Intergovernmental Conference on Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity Begins, Speakers Stress Binding Treaty Critical in Protecting World’s Oceans

With oceans and seas moderating global climate conditions, maintaining the earth’s ecosystem, and supporting the livelihood of more than 3 billion people, it was critical to develop a binding treaty aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, delegates heard today as they convened to address organizational matters towards that goal.

In its resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, the General Assembly decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, to consider the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015 on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible.  The Conference will meet in New York for four substantive sessions, as well as for the current three-day organizational meeting, held from 16 to 18 April.  The first session is to be convened 4‑17 September 2018, the second and third sessions will take place in 2019 and the fourth session in the first half of 2020.

In his opening remarks, Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said that multilateralism was important in ensuring the protection of marine biodiversity.  Oceans and seas had plants and animals which could be used for medical purposes, and over 3 billion people relied on oceans for their livelihoods.  The discussions, therefore, must also be inclusive, and views from various sectors, such as scientists and legal experts, must be sought.

Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, and speaking in his role as Secretary-General of the Intergovernmental Conference, reminded delegates that not only was marine biodiversity thought to produce a third of the earth’s oxygen, but that oceans were critical to sustaining the earth’s ecosystem.  However, the world’s oceans were facing major pressures simultaneously.  Some were reaching the limits of their carrying capacity or, in some cases, already had.  Unless those problems were addressed, there was a major risk that a destructive cycle of degradation would be produced in which the ocean could no longer provide those benefits critical to the world.

Elected by acclamation as President of the Conference, Rena Lee, Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues and Special Envoy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, highlighted the collective efforts that had led to the commencement of the Conference.  “I cannot do this job alone”, she said, calling for cooperation and transparency, and inviting delegates to share views with her openly.

As the floor opened to general statements, Rennier Stanislaus Gadabu (Nauru), speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, noted all the efforts which had made the Conference possible and emphasized that it was critical not to backslide.  The Conference must work towards an agreement which recognized the special cases of small island developing States, as well as least developed countries.  It must also include the principle of adjacency and integration of traditional knowledge, as well as address transboundary and cumulative impacts, he emphasized.

Ismail Raushan Zahir (Maldives), speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said that a working document prepared by the President and issued well in advance of the first session in September would help expedite consultations.  Calling for a flexible approach in view of the complexity of the matter, he also said that it was necessary to avoid holding parallel meetings, especially since many of the Alliance’s members States had small delegations.

Juliette Rosita Riley (Barbados), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also echoed the call for a zero draft that was informed by the Preparatory Committee’s recommendations and the Chair’s non-paper.  In addition, she stressed that the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure should apply mutatis mutandis, with the Bureau consisting of three members per region.

However, Sergey Leonidchenko (Russian Federation) said that the Preparatory Committee had not been able to identify a true consensus-based element for a future treaty, and the General Assembly resolution had left many issues unresolved, including the modalities of preparing a zero draft, which could only be the result of intergovernmental negotiation.  It was not possible for the report of the Preparatory Committee to be automatically transformed into a zero draft.  “Speed should be replaced by wise pragmatism and a balanced approach,” he stressed.

Other important concerns were raised by Julio César Arriola Ramírez (Paraguay), speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, who said that group’s participation in ocean-related matters had been limited due to a variety of reasons, including lack of knowledge and resources.  Thus, those countries had been prevented from gaining access to the ocean economy.  Discussions on the new instrument should be inclusive and protect landlocked countries’ rights, he stressed.

Martin Zvachula (Federated States of Micronesia) underscored that the ancestors of his people had entrusted to the current generation a solemn duty to safeguard natural resources for the sake of future generations.  His country had championed the need to acknowledge and operationalize the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities, and had also insisted on key roles for adjacent coastal States to play, as well as respect for existing measures, processes and instruments that were success stories of marine conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment, he reminded delegates.

Responding to concerns and issues, the President commended their eagerness to dive into the work, and clarified that she had no intention of holding parallel meetings, especially during the first session in September.  Further, she advised delegates to circle back to the question of the zero draft in September. 

Following statements, an interactive dialogue on the agenda item addressing the “Provisional agenda of the first session of the Conference” ensued, with multiple representatives stressing that it was vital to avoid parallel meetings.

As case in point, the representative of Kenya noted that he had been dipping in and out of the current meeting due to a parallel meeting in the adjoining conference room.

Australia’s delegate added that parallel meetings should be avoided in the beginning.  However, if they later became necessary, it would be best to avoid parallel decision-making meetings.

During discussions, delegates also addressed the rules of procedures, as noted in the General Assembly resolution titled “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/RES/72/249).  

In addition, the need for a working document was brought to the fore again, with the representative of the European Union requesting an indicative programme of work for the upcoming session in September and a focused document that would be developed by early June to allow for internal consultation.

Responding to delegates, the President said she intended to spend time on substantive matters during the discussions and that all elements of the package would be discussed.  Reiterating that she did not plan to hold parallel meetings, she stressed that there would be sufficient time to prepare for the sessions.  Noting that delegates had found the structure of the preparatory sessions useful, she added that she was open to changing the mode of work depending on the pace of progress made.

The meeting then turned to the agenda item addressing “Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Conference”, with delegates commenting on the mutatis mutandis formulation and the time frame.  They weighed the need to develop a consensus at such an early stage against the importance of not reopening negotiations on issues that had been resolved.  Also underscored was the aim to finalize procedural issues so that the September meeting could focus on substantive issues.

Also speaking today were representatives of Egypt (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Algeria (for the African Group), Bangladesh, Singapore, Philippines, New Zealand, Chile, Honduras, Thailand, Nepal, Tonga, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Sudan, Solomon Islands, Morocco, Venezuela, China, Jamaica, India, Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Canada, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Indonesia, United States, Norway, Iceland, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Colombia, Argentina and Peru, as did the Permanent Observer of the Holy See.

Observers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas International also spoke today, as did representatives from non-governmental organizations, including the Council of Environmental Law, High Seas Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

The Intergovernmental Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 April.

For information media. Not an official record.