General Assembly Lauds Success of Law of Sea Convention, But Deplores Sea-Level Rise, Lack of Support for Small Island Nations, Increased Maritime Risks
Speakers Underscore the Need for Legal Instrument to Promote Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity
Celebrating the forty years of marine multilateralism ushered in by the adoption of “the constitution of the oceans,” speakers in the General Assembly today underscored the need to continue that tradition with a binding instrument on sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
In opening remarks, General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) reminded delegates that the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea has given the international community a common language on management of oceans, from navigational rights to maritime borders. The document represents multilateralism done right, he said, also calling on States to elaborate the text of a legally binding instrument under that Convention for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. As a Māori proverb puts it, he reminded delegates that “we are all in the same canoe”.
The Convention is more relevant than ever, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, noting its near-universal acceptance. Calling on the international community to end the false dichotomy between profit and protection of the ocean, he said that developing countries, especially small island developing States, must be supported, as they balance the need for thriving coastal economies with the need to preserve the ocean and its seas for future generations.
Delegates also heard from Albert Hoffmann, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, who said the Convention continues to be relevant to new challenges because of its comprehensive definition of pollution and system for the compulsory settlement of disputes. Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, reminded delegates that from the outset, the Convention was a “package deal”. Expressing concern over States parties promoting visions that radically change the rules of engagement, he stressed that such behaviour risks undermining the law of the sea.
Given such multilateral challenges, said the representative of Iceland, speaking for the Western European and other States parties to the Convention, as well as the United States and Liechtenstein, it is especially worthwhile to celebrate the Convention’s fortieth anniversary, because it is one of the twentieth century’s most inspiring stories of multilateral success. Highlighting the legally complex challenge posed by sea-level rise, he said solutions must be found, in line with the Convention.
As speakers took the opportunity to reflect on the history of the Convention, they also pointed to the urgent need for increased multilateralism, including by concluding negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument, within the auspices of the Convention, that would govern the conservation of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions.
Rwanda’s delegate, who spoke for the African Group, pointed out that the current framework for the governance of areas beyond national jurisdiction is fragmented and inadequate. Stressing the need to advance work on the internationally legally binding instrument on that, he said his Group is committed to negotiating a treaty text that is effective and implementable.
Jamaica’s representative recalled how his country, 20 years old at the time, was chosen as the location for signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay in 1982. Also speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), he said the bloc is “keenly attuned” to the importance of the maritime environment, as small island developing States’ societies, economies and identities are linked to healthy oceans.
Singapore’s delegate, speaking in lieu of the President of the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, recalled that when the Convention, after adoption on 30 April 1982, opened for signature in December, it received 119 signatures on that day, eventually coming into force in 1994. It put an end to a period of chaos and unilateralism in the rule of the sea, he said, but expressed concern that a few countries are seeking to downgrade the importance of the Convention, which is the mother treaty on the law of the sea.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, noting various global emergencies, such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification, pointed to the need for a careful and soul-searching look at whether the Convention is robust enough to address the challenges at hand. It is ultimately up to States to develop new agreements when the gaps turn out to be too wide, he said.
Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, drew attention to other important and eagerly awaited agreements, including a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. He called on World Trade Organization (WTO) members to ratify the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement and highlighted the need to secure maritime zones against the threats of sea-level rise. “UNCLOS must remain our compass as we voyage towards the next 40 years,” he said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the United States, Guatemala (on behalf of States parties from Latin America and the Caribbean), Viet Nam (on behalf of a group of countries), Thailand, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Poland, Spain, Chile, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Morocco, Dominican Republic, Austria, Italy, the Philippines, Oman, United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea, Brunei Darussalam, Guyana, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, United Republic of Tanzania, China, Bolivia, Norway, Namibia, Cyprus, Greece, France, Paraguay, Bulgaria, Brazil, Ecuador, Monaco, Argentina, Portugal and Türkiye, as well as the European Union.
The representative of Fiji spoke in his capacity as President of the twenty-seventh session of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority, while the representative of Malta spoke in her capacity as President of the thirty-second Meeting of State parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The meeting was suspended at 6:15 p.m. The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 December, to continue its consideration of oceans and law of the sea.
CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, quoting the science writer Arthur C. Clarke said: “how inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.” Noting that oceans provide incredible biodiversity, sustenance and resources to billions of people and organisms, he called for sustainable, science-based solutions to save the seas and cited a Maori proverb: “He waka eke noa — we are all in the same canoe.” Highlighting the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said that document, often called “the constitution of the oceans” has given the international community a common language on how to define sovereign and navigational rights at sea and how to delineate maritime borders between neighbours. Describing it as an excellent example of “multilateralism done right”, he added that it illustrates what global governance can and should look like.
Assembly resolution 72/249, he added, has called on States to elaborate the text of a legally binding instrument under the Convention for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Underscoring the need for extra effort to conclude this “High Seas treaty”, he added that countless species are on the brink of extinction even as small islands face nothing short of an existential threat. Commending Portugal and Kenya for co-hosting the Conference on the Ocean in Lisbon this past summer, he said it addressed the major threats to oceans, from acidification to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Thanking France and Costa Rica for offering to hold the next Conference on the Oceans in France in 2025, he called upon all countries to work together to enhance cooperation in the realm of the oceans.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with its near-universal acceptance, reflects the fundamental importance of its legal framework and related instruments to countries around the world. The Convention is more relevant than ever, he said, stressing that it is high time to end the false dichotomy between profit and protection of the ocean. Governments at all levels should develop laws and policies that put protection and conservation first. Ocean-based industries and investors should make conservation, protection and climate resilience a top priority across their business plans.
Developing countries, especially small island developing States, must be supported, as they balance the need for thriving coastal economies with the need to protect and preserve ocean and its seas for future generations, he said. “Now is the time to raise our ambitions and continue carrying forward the vision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added. He encouraged all States to become parties to this crucial instrument and intensify efforts towards its full implementation. “At every step, you can count on the United Nations to work with you to bring peace, stability and security to the ocean and its seas,” he said.
YONG-ERN NATHANIEL KHNG (Singapore), speaking in lieu of the President of the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted on the 30 April 1982, opened for signature in December, and received 119 signatures on that day, coming into force in 1994. The Convention has contributed to international peace and the rule of law, and put an end to a period of chaos, conflict, and unilateralism in the rule of the sea. Adding that it has promoted the peaceful settlement of international disputes, he said one of the Convention’s unique and valuable features is the system of compulsory dispute settlement. It has struck a balance between the rights of coastal States and the rights of the international community, conferring upon the former sovereign rights to the resources of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, while protecting the international community’s interest in the freedom of navigation. It is a living document, capable of expanding to take in new developments and opportunities, and documents continue to be adopted under its umbrella.
Global warming, climate change and sea-level rise affect implementation of the Convention, which is the greatest challenge confronting humankind, he said. It contains the legal tools to meet the challenge, but States must act urgently. The rise of sea levels will affect the baselines of coastal states, as well as their maritime entitlements. The warming and acidification of the oceans are killing coral reefs and causing fish stocks to migrate to colder areas. Soon, without action, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. There are many marine and scientific issues calling for urgent attention. A few countries are seeking to downgrade the importance of the Convention, which is the mother treaty on the law of the sea, setting out the legal framework through which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. Countries that seek to undermine the Convention must not succeed. This is a very troubled world, he said, adding that support for multilateralism and cooperation is being threatened by the rise of protectionism and nationalism. It is timely to celebrate the Convention, as it represents a victory for international cooperation, multilateralism, international law, and the rule of law.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), President of the thirty-second Meeting of State parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said that the Convention — the “constitution of the oceans” — has guided every aspect of maritime affairs over the past 40 years. It is a fundamental pillar of ocean governance, as it establishes the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. Further, the Convention is a major achievement of the United Nations in its quest to strengthen peace, security, cooperation and friendly relations among States, standing as a testament to the power of multilateral negotiation and consensus-building. Paying tribute to the late Ambassador of Malta, Arvid Pardo, she detailed his contribution to the development of the Convention and his championing of the concept of the ocean floor as mankind’s common heritage.
She went on to spotlight the many challenges currently relating to the ocean, including piracy, human trafficking, smuggling of weapons, maritime disputes, pollution and resource exploitation. As the international community commemorates the past 40 years, it must also look to the next generation of opportunities, challenges and hopes. Such challenges transcend national boundaries, and addressing them will require the world to work together. She therefore urged a redoubling of efforts to address rising sea levels and to conclude negotiations on an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. She added that, as an island State in the heart of the Mediterranean, Malta’s history and geography is intertwined with the oceans and seas and, therefore, her country will champion these issues during its upcoming term on the Security Council.
ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Convention offers a delicate balance between rights and duties, thus creating a global regime for international governance of the oceans, even though the world has changed since its adoption. Stressing the importance of cooperation to find common solutions, he noted degradation of the ocean due to human activities and climate change, including ocean acidification and biodiversity loss. Noting that the ocean marks two-thirds of the Earth's surface, he said it sustains humanity, produces oxygen and contributes to the blue economy. The health of the ocean must be at the centre of all efforts, he said, calling for stronger collective commitment.
To protect ocean biodiversity and sustainably use its resources for future generations, he continued, the international community must improve its scientific knowledge. Emphasizing the need for capacity building and transfer of technologies to developing countries, he called on the international community to address the development divide. Further, the current framework for governance of areas beyond national jurisdiction is fragmented and inadequate, he said, pointing to the need to advance work on the international legally binding instrument on that issue. The African Group is committed to negotiating a treaty text that is effective and implementable, he said.
Ms. MEDINA (United States) stated that the Convention sets forth a comprehensive legal framework governing uses of the ocean, adding that the institutions it established are functioning as envisioned. Delegations are currently negotiating a new international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. This new agreement will provide an unprecedented opportunity to coordinate science-based conservation and sustainable use of high seas biodiversity across management regimes. Further, among the foundations of the Convention are the sovereign rights and jurisdictions afforded to coastal states in their maritime zones, including for conserving and managing natural resources. As greenhouse gas emissions rise, oceans are becoming warmer, higher, more acidic and less productive, with a cascade effect on communities and livelihoods around the world. Among the most devastating of these impacts is sea-level rise, which threatens the very existence of some island nations and the livelihoods of people from coastal states around the world, she said.
SATYENDRA PRASAD (Fiji), President of the twenty-seventh session of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority, said when the Convention was adopted, world trade across the seas was less than $2 trillion. Today, well over $20 trillion of the world’s trade travels the seas using the freedom of navigation provisions of the Convention, which gave the international community a comprehensive legal framework for the governance of the oceans. In so doing it replaced an era of legal chaos, he said. Its central recognition of the oceans as the “common ownership of humanity” is its core operating principle. For 40 years, the Convention has delivered stability, predictability and certainty to “our blue planet”, providing 40 years of dispute settlement. Cooperation in governance of the global good — the ocean — is at the heart of the Convention, he said, noting that this simple but core idea is the beating heart of the Convention.
The fortieth anniversary of the Convention should serve as a good moment to undertake a stress test — a general health check-up, and the international community must pose the question whether the Convention and the governance institutions that flow from it are fit for purpose for the new challenges that lie ahead, he continued. There is no pathway to a 1.5°C future without more ambitious nature and ocean conservation actions. The Convention is continuing to inspire evolution of ocean governance, continuing to provide the stability needed as governance evolves to meet emerging challenges. When the Convention was adopted, one of the primary interests of Member States was to shape international law governing the ocean in ways that would drive human prosperity over the decades ahead. The Convention has delivered prosperity. The question today is slightly different: whether it will deliver equally on sustainability. The answer must be that in sustainability lies prosperity, that the Convention can deliver both sustainability and prosperity, that sustainability and prosperity are but two sides of the same coin — for today they are not, he concluded.
MICHAEL LODGE, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, noting that the General Assembly reaffirms every year that the Convention and its two implementation agreements set out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, said that the Authority plays a crucial role within such framework. It is a fundamental pillar of ocean-governance architecture, and represents a collective vision of how the international community can come together to manage a shared space and resource for the benefit of all humanity. He went on to recall that, from the outset, the Convention was regarded as a “package deal”, and that there would have been no agreement on other elements without agreement on the status and use of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction.
“It is important not to forget this,” he stressed, recalling the adoption of an implementing agreement in 1994 to ensure the Convention could enter into force. The 1994 agreement introduced various safeguards and compromises to make the Convention’s provisions relating to deep-sea mining acceptable to all States. Expressing concern over States parties to the Convention promoting visions that radically change the rules of engagement, he stressed that such behaviour risks undermining the law of the sea. He therefore underscored the need to take a consistent approach in implementing the Convention’s provisions, stressing that “we cannot pick and choose different elements for capricious reasons or to support short-term positions”. He added that, if the international community cannot manage the deep sea and its mineral resources effectively, then the prospects for successfully managing other global commons based on equity and equality between States “are likely to become increasingly remote”.
ALBERT HOFFMANN, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, paid tribute to the respect for international law and cooperation that led to adoption of the Convention. Noting that “such a spirit has proved more elusive in recent years”, he highlighted development of the dispute settlement mechanisms provided under the Convention. It can be somewhat difficult to quantify their impact, he said, noting that even the prospect of instituting proceedings before the Tribunal might lead to a diplomatic settlement. Nevertheless, the Tribunal has contributed to both the settlement of disputes submitted to it and development of the law of the sea across the range of legal issues covered by the Convention.
Looking towards the future, he noted scientific and technical advances made in understanding the ocean, its resources and deep seabed. Pointing to new pressing topics, such as marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction or the impact of climate change, he said the Convention remains relevant because it provides a comprehensive definition of pollution of the marine environment, as well as duties with respect to certain sources of pollution. It also contains provisions which allow new rules and standards, he said, adding that the Convention’s system for the compulsory settlement of disputes is one of its main achievements.
CARLA MARIA RODRÍGUEZ MANCIA (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of States parties from Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that the Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out. She supported the legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and recognized the relevance of the Mining Code negotiations that are ongoing at the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica. Mining exploitation in the deep sea cannot be addressed until a robust legal framework, including regulations and relevant standards and guidelines, has been adopted by the council of the Authority.
THÓRDUR AEGIR ÓSKARSSON (Iceland), speaking for the Western European and other States parties to the Convention, as well as the United States and Liechtenstein, said that at the time the Convention was negotiated, the number of sovereign States was increasing, technological advancements were being made and uses of the ocean were becoming more complex. Yet diplomats from all over the world managed to negotiate a Convention which has greatly contributed to peace, stability and the rule of law ever since. What sets the Convention apart is its scope and comprehensiveness of the legal regime that it establishes, he pointed out, adding that it has stood the test of time. Further, noting that negotiations will have concluded on an internationally legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he said that the agreement has the potential to significantly respond to the many threats facing the marine environment. In addition, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, International Seabed Authority, and Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf also support the Convention’s aims.
However, commemoration of the Convention’s fortieth anniversary is also taking place at a time when the multilateral order is under threat and the world faces mounting challenges, not only in the short term in relation to conflicts or to the pandemic, but in the long term in relation to the environment, climate and ocean health, to name but a few, he continued. “At this challenging point in time, it is certainly worth taking a moment to celebrate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea at its fortieth anniversary, for the very reason that it is absolutely one of the most inspiring stories of multilateral success during the twentieth century,” he said. The world must build on this success and preserve it, upholding the balance between the rights and obligations enshrined in the Convention. The threat of sea-level rise, which concerns all Member States, impacts small island developing States and low-lying coastal communities, which will suffer disproportionally from it. This is a legally complex challenge, but solutions must be found, in line with the Convention. “We must also do better on full implementation of the Convention, for instance on combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” he stressed, calling on States that have not yet done so to become parties to the Convention as soon as possible.
DANG HOANG GIANG (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said the Convention establishes, for the first time in history, a comprehensive framework of law within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. The international community, including the General Assembly, has repeatedly emphasized its universal and unified character, he said, reiterating that the Convention “is of strategic importance as the basis for national, regional and global action and cooperation in the marine sector” and “its integrity needs to be maintained”. With the Convention comes greater clarity, stability and predictability in ocean and maritime activities, as well as greater peace and security, and greater development and prosperity for all States. The Convention brings greater basis for further development and implementation of the law of the sea. Upholding and fully implementing the Convention remains as urgent as ever, and long-standing challenges remain. The international community should therefore further efforts to strengthen the rule of law in the oceans as established by the Convention. All States must comply with legal and normative obligations under the Convention in good faith, and their actions, including maritime claims, maritime activities and international and regional cooperation, must be in line with the Convention. In 2021, the Group of Friends on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was established, seeking to renew the collective commitment to this critical Convention, promote understanding and its application, and explore opportunities for cooperation in responding to challenges and possible support in the implementation of the accord.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER MANLEY WALLACE (Jamaica), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that as small island developing States, his group of countries are “keenly attuned” to the importance of the maritime environment and the need to conserve and sustainably use its resources. He emphasized that such States’ societies, economies “and, indeed, our identities” are inextricably linked to healthy, bountiful oceans and seas. He therefore reaffirmed CARICOM’s commitment to negotiating an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. While expressing disappointment that such an instrument was not finalized in August, he looked forward to successfully concluding a robust treaty on this topic in February-March 2023.
He went on to stress that such an agreement must safeguard and ensure the equitable sharing of ocean resources. He also called for due recognition of the special circumstances that small island developing States face due to their unique characteristics, geography and location. Spotlighting the growing threat to security posed by climate-change-related sea level rise, he welcomed the International Law Commission’s work on questions of statehood, legal security and notification of baselines and outer limits of maritime zones. The start of negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution to tackle the global challenge of marine litter is also welcome. Underscoring that the international community “can no longer only rely on grand commitments and lofty ambitions”, he called for actionable solutions to address the state of the ocean.
In his national capacity, he recalled that his country — only 20 years old at the time — was chosen as the location for the signing of the Convention on the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay in 1982. Noti uestions of statehood, legal security and notification of baselines and outer limits of maritime zones. The start of negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution to tackle the global challenge of marine litter is also welcome. Underscoring that the interna ng that, 40 years on, the Convention has served the global community well, he stressed the need to live up to its ideals and build on its firm foundation as the world seeks to deal with issues in “uncharted waters”. The international community must address gaps by coming to a robust agreement concerning marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, he added, also urging that deep-sea mining be undertaken under a comprehensive regulatory framework developed under the auspices of the International Seabed Authority, which Jamaica is proud to host.
BJÖRN OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, described the Convention as the “Constitution for the Oceans” and one of the most robust instruments ever adopted. Its provisions reflect customary international law and are thus binding on all States irrespective of whether they have acceded to the Convention. By establishing the legal order for seas and oceans, the Convention contributes to sustainable development as well as peace, security and cooperation among all nations. The Convention also contains rules for protection of the marine environment as well as marine scientific research. It is therefore imperative that the rights enjoyed under the Convention by all States, including landlocked States, are respected. Further, all members of the international community must abide by the fundamental principles of the law of the sea and refrain from any actions undermining regional stability and security, he asserted.
Spotlighting key milestones achieved within the Convention, he said it resolved the issue of the maximum breadth of the territorial sea; established compulsory procedures of dispute, which contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security; and created three new institutions — the International Seabed Authority, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Moreover, the Convention can help address new, urgent challenges, such as climate change and sea-level rise as well as the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. To this end, he stressed the importance of concluding an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
DENNIS FRANCIS (Trinidad and Tobago), aligning with the Caribbean Community as well as Latin American and Caribbean States parties, said the Convention’s concept of “the common heritage of mankind” was at the time new and revolutionary. His country has 15 times more sea than land, he said, adding that ocean degradation, including erosion, sedimentation and pollution, have resulted in loss of property and affected livelihoods. Turning to negotiations for an instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he called on the international community to create a transformative text instead of maintaining the status quo. It should also facilitate the creation of a comprehensive and inclusive utilization and management regime for the ocean, he said, highlighting the need for a special fund to assist small island developing States and least developed countries to implement the objectives of the agreement.
VATHAYUDH VICHANKAIYAKIJ (Thailand) stressed the need to increase constructive engagement among States and relevant stakeholders to enhance understanding in marine science and technology. Knowledge transfer and funding will improve States’ capacities in marine environmental protection, such as monitoring and surveillance of endangered marine species and avoiding marine biodiversity degradation. Thailand has taken the initiative to address the issue of marine debris on a regional scale, including through its proposed activities based on “Best Practices and Non-Binding Guidelines for Cooperative Activities on Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea”. Further, he pointed to a National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing to ensure sustainable fisheries. He emphasized that, once concluded, the instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction will lead to greater prosperity in the use of marine biological diversity. The important principle of the common heritage of mankind should be embedded in this new instrument, he noted.
YONG-ERN NATHANIEL KHNG (Singapore) stated his country’s survival and prosperity depends on the full and effective implementation of the Convention, which remains one of the United Nations’ “greatest achievements in addressing complex issues of the global commons through the codification and progressive development of international law”. The Convention has significantly contributed to international peace, security and sustainable development and imposes a clear obligation on all States to protect and preserve the marine environment. The rules of the Convention, while firm, are sufficiently flexible to accommodate and address new developments and challenges relating to ocean governance.
RHEE ZHA HYOUNG, (Republic of Korea), said the Convention has been successful in solidifying a unified legal order in the oceans, creating a belief in the rule of law in oceans among States. However, conservation of living resources, especially in the area beyond national jurisdiction, is under constant threat by a number of elements. Global emergencies, such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification, have long veered off the desired path. There is little doubt that these types of challenges fall within the broadly defined purview of the Convention, but the current state of the oceans demands a more careful and soul-searching look at whether the Convention is robust enough to address the challenges at hand. More often than not, it is left to the law of the sea community to fill in the gaps, he said, noting that it is ultimately up to States to render legitimacy to those efforts and develop new agreements when the gaps turn out to be too wide.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland), aligning himself with the European Union, expressed hope for the adoption in 2023 of an agreement relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Such an agreement will enhance the existing legal framework governing, inter alia, the establishment of marine protected areas, conduct of environmental impact assessments in areas beyond national jurisdiction and sustainable use of marine genetic resources. Further, to create a balanced, equitable treaty, its provisions should address benefits relating to marine genetic resources, capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology. He added a call for all States to continue common efforts to maintain the integrity of the Convention and implement its provisions in full.
AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain), associating himself with the European Union, the Western European and other States parties and a group of countries, recalled that it has an extensive coastline, two archipelagos — the Canaries and the Balearics — a coast in the Strait of Gibraltar and a fishing fleet, thus underscoring the particular importance of the law of the sea for his country. Recalling that Spain ratified the Convention in 1997 along with related development instruments, he stressed the importance of sustainable fishing. Among the great contributions of the Convention to the management of the oceans, he outlined the institutions created for this purpose, in particular the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Reaffirming the importance of the Commission on the limits of the continental shelf, he highlighted Spain’s scientific and legal contributions. Highlighting the work of the International Seabed Authority, including its Action Plan for Marine Scientific Research in support of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030, he underscored the need for the Authority to be an effective regulatory entity for the future of mining operations on the seabed.
NARVAEZ OJEDA (Chile), aligning with the Latin American and Caribbean States parties, said the Convention is the main binding instrument relating to the ocean. Highlighting her country’s “turquoise foreign policy”, she called for efforts to address climate change and loss of biodiversity. Highlighting the institutionality that stems from the Convention, she expressed appreciation for the work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and International Seabed Authority. Calling on the international community to preserve the aforementioned areas as world heritage sites, she underscored the need for a cautious approach, adding that mining in these zones must not be allowed.
Mr. CHANDRA (Indonesia) stated that the Convention is living proof of a successful collective endeavour of States to codify and develop international rules. The emergence of new challenges, such as the evolution of transnational crimes at sea, technological advancement in seabed exploration, human rights and labour protections for workers at sea and adverse impact of climate change, raise the question of whether the Convention remains fit for purpose. The Convention will continue to be the primary norm that shapes State’s behaviour in the seas and oceans and its integrity must be maintained, as it provides avenues for peaceful settlements of differences. Improving maritime cooperation is critical to building confidence, ultimately laying a solid foundation for strategic trust in creating peaceful and secure seas and oceans. The voices of all countries, big and small, developed and developing, must equally matter, he said.
MD MONWAR HOSSAIN (Bangladesh) said that adoption of the Convention in 1982 was a landmark initiative to establish a rule-based order over land and sea, providing States with mechanisms to settle disputes in a peaceful manner, and preventing conflicts over the ocean, as well as its resources, around the world. The Convention has critical importance for Bangladesh, he said, which depends on the sea for food and the population’s overall livelihood, with much trade being carried out overseas. Bangladesh strongly defends the Convention and its provisions, having made significant efforts for its implementation. Climate change and sea-level rise are great challenges, with maritime pollution increasing at an alarming rate. The international community needs global solidarity more than ever in upholding the rule of law in oceans, as established by the Convention.
SATYENDRA PRASAD (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, underscored the importance for his region of establishing and maintaining maritime zones and the rights and entitlements flowing from them. Securing maritime zones against the threats of sea-level rise is the defining issue, he stressed, as he reiterated his commitment to upholding the 2021 Pacific Islands Forum Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise. Turning his attention to the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, he said his country looks forward to the adoption of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework to provide a strategic vision and global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. It also looks forward to the speedy conclusion of a new legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdictions.
As fisheries are critical to the Pacific peoples’ food security, recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic and overall sustainable development, he called on World Trade Organization (WTO) members to ratify the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement and commit to the second wave of negotiations on overcapacity and overfishing. Through its 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, the Pacific Island Forum will protect the ocean and environment; safeguard the integrity of natural systems and biodiversity through conservation; and minimize any degrading, polluting, overexploiting or undermining actions. He urged States to strive for the highest standards of nuclear safety and environmental and marine protection. “UNCLOS must remain our compass as we voyage towards the next 40 years”, he stressed.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said the fortieth anniversary of the Convention is a moment for all Member States to re-dedicate themselves, uphold the Convention, expand ocean governance and speedily return the planet to a 1.5 Celsius pathway. Fiji, he pledged, will continue to make its outsized contribution, as its culture, traditional knowledge systems, beliefs, food, livelihoods, trade, tourism, fish, biodiversity and health are all contingent and dependent on sound ocean governance.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco), highlighting the arduous and unprecedented multilateral effort that led to the signing of the Convention, which has 168 States parties today, noted that many of its provisions reflect customary international law. One of the flagship components is its flexibility, which allows it to respond to ongoing challenges, he said, adding that it is essential to build the capacity of developing States regarding marine technology. Ocean acidification and sea-level rise are among the biggest environmental threats, he said, calling for international commitment to restoring ocean ecosystems. Reaffirming his coastal State’s commitment to marine protection, he called on all countries to embody the values of the Convention.
MARIELA SANCHEZ DE CRUZ (Dominican Republic) stated that, as a coastal country, the Dominican Republic has always attached the greatest importance to the sea, which is why it signed and ratified the Convention and hosted the First Conference on the Law of the Sea in Latin America. She reaffirmed its commitment to the Convention in all its aspects, also emphasizing the importance of a legally binding international instrument relating to the conservation and sustainable use of the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
HELMUT TUERK (Austria), pointing to the Finance Committee of the International Seabed Authority, said establishment of a seabed sustainability fund, which would be used to support global public goods, investment in human and physical capital or deep sea research and conservation, could be a viable alternative to simple financial distribution of funds to States parties. Regarding the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, he noted that, although dispute settlement bodies have clarified several uncertainties in the law of the sea, many unresolved issues remain, particularly regarding delimitation between coastal States with adjacent or opposite coasts. In that regard, States can make use of the dispute settlement system enshrined in the Convention. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is the only body under the Convention not dedicated full-time to fulfil its mandate, despite its heavy responsibilities and immense workload. Noting the increasing complexity in coastal States’ submissions, he said his delegation is pleased with ongoing efforts to try to remedy unsatisfactory working conditions of the Commission’s members.
GIANLUCA GRECO (Italy), associating himself with the European Union and the Western European and Others group of States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, voiced support for the conclusion of an ambitious, effective and universal agreement on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction at the fifth resumed session of negotiations. Also voicing support for ongoing negotiations within the International Seabed Authority, he said deep-sea mining should not be authorized until after the adoption of a strong and adequate regulatory framework, based on sound scientific knowledge, the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach. Noting the increasing importance of Part XV of the Convention relating to the peaceful settlement of disputes due to the increasing number of States parties and the potential for disputes, he underscored that the work of the arbitral and judicial forums, in particular the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, ensures peaceful relations among States parties and promotes respect and compliance with the Convention.
ANTONIO MANUEL REVILLA LAGDAMEO (Philippines) emphasized that the Convention is the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. “Lest we forget to whom our diplomatic efforts redound, let us be reminded of the fisherfolk, the seafarer, the coastal citizen, whose lives are impacted daily and directly by our common waters and therefore by the Convention,” he stressed. The Philippines, he noted, has complied in good faith with its obligations under the Convention and sought to clarify its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, as well as the rights and obligations of States parties within these zones. As the decisions of the Convention’s dispute settlement mechanisms are final, claiming otherwise would be an affront to the Convention and the rule of law. All parties must respect the 2016 arbitral award, which conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.
MOHAMMED ALI AHMED AL SHEHHI (Oman) said the Convention was a turning point in terms of international cooperation, and an achievement which entrenches law as a key point in the relations between States. Oman was among the first 60 countries to become signatories to the Convention. His country’s vision reiterates the importance it attaches to the sea and the ocean, evidenced by the crafting of a strategy and a position of protection of maritime resources, with the ultimate objective being sustainable development. Oman is committed to the Convention, and has been aligning its national legislation with the Convention, aiming to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, bringing about a new era of constructive cooperation on maritime issues.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), reiterating her country’s commitment, stressed that the Convention applies in the South China Sea as it does for all other oceans and seas. There must be the unhampered exercise of the freedom of the high seas, especially navigation, oversight and the right of innocent passage. In recognizing that challenges to ocean governance remain, she acknowledged the concerns of member countries of the Pacific Island Forum and the Alliance of Small Island States with respect to the stability of their maritime boundaries in the face of sea-level rise. Turning to ocean health, she noted its significant degradation due to human action — including from industries directly regulated by the Convention — despite States’ duties to protect the marine environment. As the leader of the Global Ocean Alliance, co-Chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and member of the High Ambition Coalition for Biodiversity Beyond Natural Jurisdiction, the United Kingdom looks forward to the conclusion of an ambitious agreement in 2023 on biodiversity beyond natural jurisdiction, she said.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea), aligning himself with the Pacific Islands Forum, Asia-Pacific Group, Pacific Small Island Developing States, Alliance of Small Island States and the Group of 77, said: “Imagine for a moment, where would the international community be, today, without the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea?” A party to the Convention, his country has partnered with multi-stakeholders and strengthened capacity-building to address oceans governance, conservation and sustainable use of its marine resources. However, spotlighting the threats of sea-level rise, climate change and the challenge of sustainable development, he highlighted his region’s Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise, which reaffirms maritime zones, established by the Convention, are maintained and continued without reduction notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate change-related sea-level rise. He also voiced his commitment for the intergovernmental process aiming for an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
NOOR QAMAR SULAIMAN (Brunei Darussalam), noting the pivotal role of the Convention in setting out an international order for activities in the oceans and seas, said her delegation looks forward to the resumption of the fifth session of the intergovernmental conference on an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, to protect, conserve and restore marine life and ensure sustainable use of ocean resources, as well as strengthening the existing governance framework. Brunei Darussalam will continue to work together with the international community in upholding the purposes and principles of the Convention, she said.
CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BIRKETT (Guyana) stated that the Convention, with its 168 ratifications, is a living document, providing the framework for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea. The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea has contributed immensely to jurisprudence related to law of the sea, providing valuable decisions and advisory opinions on a wide range of issues. Since entry into force in 1994, the provisions of the Convention have been utilized on numerous occasions to resolve complex issues and continues to provide guidance on a wide range of matters. At a time when issues of climate change and food security are at the top of the world agenda, the framework provided by the Convention for effective ocean governance is increasingly important and can provide a basis from which these issues can be addressed, she added.
MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE (Cameroon) said the States parties to the Convention agreed to a legal order for the seas and oceans which facilitates international communications and promotes their peaceful use, equitable and peaceful management of their resources, conservation of the latter, and the study, preservation and protection of the marine environment with a view to achieve a just and equitable international economic order. The anniversary offers the international community the opportunity to engage and consider the various developments of the contents and challenges of the marine environment to suggest appropriate measures and ensure that the Convention can always live up to the legitimate expectations and aspirations placed upon it. Humanity must spare no effort to implement the Convention in a uniform and comprehensive fashion.
PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka) said the international community must continue to strive with greater vigour and political competency to maintain the momentum in establishing international norms. The non-ratification of the Convention by developed States could lead to other States disregarding key aspects of international law, such as freedom of navigation or rights under the exclusive economic zone, he warned. Noting that technological advances have brought new challenges and opportunities, he said the Convention could serve as a pillar to emerge consensus on important security, economic, environmental and other interests, giving precise norms and rules that can narrow the issues and resolve disputes.
SULEIMAN HAJI SULEIMAN (United Republic of Tanzania) stated that, as a major developing maritime State in the horn of Africa, Tanzania attaches great importance to the Convention, and was among the first States to sign and ratify it. The ongoing negotiation on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is another milestone, he added. The Secretary-General should take appropriate measures within overall existing resource levels to further strengthen the Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea. The Convention should be interpreted and applied in its entirety, accurately and in good faith. “The ocean is the common home of humanity and its protection and sustainable use are our shared responsibility,” he said.
ZHANG JUN (China) pointed out that the Convention does not provide legal norms for all maritime activities nor ocean-related activities, adding that matters that are not regulated continue to be governed by the rules and principles of general international law. Spotlighting China’s commitment to the Convention, he said his country has strengthened its domestic ocean-related legislation; promoted cooperation in maritime scientific research; and strengthened marine environmental protection. “We must strengthen international cooperation to build a blue home for humanity,” he stressed, while expressing his Government’s readiness to deepen practical maritime cooperation, develop blue partnerships and build the twenty-first century maritime Silk Road. Turning to arbitration concerning the South China Sea, he said the unfair and unlawful award seriously undermines the Convention’s authority. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the area will not be affected, he said, stressing that China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on that award.
DIEGO PARY RODRÍGUEZ (Bolivia) said all coastal and landlocked States face major obstacles in accessing the seas. Marine areas are vital for the well-being of all peoples, particularly in developing countries. The Convention establishes rights and obligations for Member States, also considering States that do not have a coastline, demonstrating the equality of States, regardless of geographical position. This allows them to strengthen their connection to this shared common heritage of humanity, granting them access to development guided by equity, non-discrimination, and social justice. “Oceans are life and Mother Earth. But the impact on biodiversity is increasingly obvious, which is a matter of great concern.” The international community must change its relationships, both within itself and with the oceans.
MIRJAM BIERLING (Norway) warned that the marine environment and biodiversity are facing complex challenges in the coming years, including acidification, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, pollution and illegal discharges. Furthermore, a changing climate will lead to a decrease in sea ice, accelerating sea-level rise, extreme sea-level events and more frequent extreme weather. Turning to the draft resolution on “Oceans and the law of the sea”, she highlighted the updates related to the United Nations Environment Assembly decision to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Plastic pollution is one of the fastest growing challenges of our time, she asserted, adding that Norway places the highest priority on achieving a robust agreement. She also drew attention to the substantial progress achieved in the latest round of negotiations on a new international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
NEVILLE MELVIN GERTZE (Namibia) stated that Namibia’s history with the Convention on the Law of the Sea is unique, as the country was the fifth to sign it. The urgent need to protect biodiversity is both a duty and an obligation for each generation, he said. Namibia has a coastline that stretches over 1,572 kilometres, he added, remarking that the country’s prosperity is dependent on the sustainable management of oceans and marine resources. While the time to act is now, he stressed the need for all-inclusive solutions to problems affecting oceans. As a global common heritage, the ocean gives us life and connects humanity in extraordinary ways. “Its protection is not optional, but vital for the survival of our global village. As such, no matter where we live, we must give back to the ocean by protecting it,” he said.
ANDREAS HADJICHRYSANTHOU (Cyprus), associating with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, emphasized its carefully crafted balance, with provisions reflecting customary international law; clear rules concerning the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of States at sea; maritime boundaries; and enforceability by and against all States. In actively supporting its objectives and institutions, Cyprus has adopted national maritime legislation and delimited its maritime zones based on the median line with several neighbouring States. No State should demand exceptional treatment, encroach on the rights of other States or engage in practices that aim to deconstruct the Convention’s clear legal regime, he stressed. Any law-of-the-sea questions related to sea-level rise should be resolved within the Convention’s framework, he said, while urging Member States that have not yet become a party to do so.
MARIA THEOFILI (Greece) said her country, a long-term maritime and seafaring nation, took active part in negotiations and contributed to the successful outcome of the Convention. The Convention not only codifies existing customary international law but sets out provisions reflecting a progressive development of law. Forty years later, its character is not only evidenced in its almost universal participation, but in the unique and comprehensive nature of its provisions, which are binding on all States, irrespective of whether they are contracting parties to the Convention or not. It is of strategic importance to all national and global actions, and promotes the stability of the law, as well as the maintenance of global peace and security. Challenges faced by the world can be tackled through the international legal order, as established by the Convention, and the commitment of all States to respect it.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) stated that the Convention establishes a fundamental balance between freedoms, rights and obligations of States and users of seas and oceans. While specifying the rights and obligations of coastal States, as well as the legal regime of their adjacent waters, the Convention also enshrines various freedoms of the high seas. France actively supports the ongoing negotiation of a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Another major challenge is that of climate change and its consequences on sea-level rise, he said, adding that, due to its presence in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean regions, France is particularly affected.
DAVID ANTONIO GIRET SOTO (Paraguay) underscored the Convention’s contributions in providing States with predictability through the establishment of norms and principles. The Convention, he pointed out, represents a common denominator for different maritime interests of all States, reflecting a major step forward in correcting the disadvantageous situation that geography imposes on landlocked countries. While the right of access to seas of such States is clearly included in the Convention, the integration of these countries into the ocean economy still presents special challenges and circumstances. As institutional, human capital and technological limitations directly affect landlocked countries’ ability to exercise their rights, there must be increased cooperation and coordination to promote equitable access to ocean resources. Turning to the negotiations on a legally binding convention for areas beyond national jurisdictions, he advocated for an inclusive and universal instrument that accounts for the peculiarities of all countries especially landlocked developing ones.
KRASSIMIRA TZONEVA BESHKOVA (Bulgaria), associating herself with the European Union, and with Viet Nam on behalf of a group of countries, noted that the Convention has preserved its relevance, with coastal States having concluded agreements on their maritime boundaries with neighbouring States, with each one — whether coastal or landlocked — trading freely with many other countries by sailing its ships. The international community has learned that the seabed and the water column above it contain bioresources, not only mineral resources, and has acquired the technology to do research and explore them — only one of the many examples of the challenges to the Convention that were not codified at the time of its negotiation. There are many other undefined issues, including maritime security, biodiversity loss, climate change, sea-level rise, human rights and labour protections. While part XV of the Convention provides States with four different forums to settle their disputes, there remain instances of refusals by States to engage with proceedings before the Tribunal and to accept its rulings, which undermine the dispute settlement process and threaten the ability of the Convention to provide a stable legal framework.
EMERSON CORAIOLA YINDE KLOSS (Brazil) said the Convention, which regulates 7 per cent of the planet’s surface, guarantees that each part of it is bound by the principles of freedom of navigation, maritime security and the right of passage. The Convention is a success story of international law, establishing oceans as the common heritage of mankind. However, its story is still unfolding, and despite substantial progress in some provisions, they still need to be translated into real progress for developing countries with technological gaps. Real equity is still one step further, and this must change, to ensure that practice follows theory, he said. Brazil will negotiate for a balance between environmental protection and economic progress.
PABLO AGUSTÍN ESCOBAR ULLAURI (Ecuador), associating with the States parties from Latin America and the Caribbean and the group of States members of the Convention, spotlighted his country’s contributions to the development of the Convention. Despite remaining challenges on illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing; pollution; climate change; maritime safety; marine technology transfer; and the equitable sharing of benefits from seabed mineral deposits, there has been much progress, especially towards development of a new instrument on biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. He then highlighted the importance of establishing a moratorium allowing for an analysis of the implications of mining resource extraction activities. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he urged, must expedite its management and comply with Article 76. While his country appreciates the Commission’s efforts, he noted that the failure to analyse submissions within reasonable deadlines affects the legitimate expectations of States parties and their development plans.
ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco) underlined the universality of the Convention, rightly called the “Constitution of the Oceans”, and its unitary character. The Convention has made it possible to establish an applicable regime to ensure the stability of ocean governance, she said, adding that its integrity must be preserved. In the face of today’s challenges and triple global crisis, the Convention remains an essential tool to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources for future generations.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina) said adoption of the Convention constitutes an international instrument with the greatest economic, political and strategic impact, with a clearly universal character, binding all States, as its provisions reflect customary international law. Support for the Convention has remained firm over 40 years, she said, while also noting that it has continuously faced new challenges and its provisions are a delicate balance between rights and obligations of States. The Convention contains a complete section on protection of the marine environment, which is currently at risk. The world needs an effective and balanced treaty that will close gaps that have opened in the protection of the marine environment, with robust regulations considering environmental and technical aspects and best practices available to protect this shared inheritance of humanity.
ANA PAULA BAPTISTA GRADE ZACARIAS (Portugal), associating herself with the European Union, described the Convention’s adoption and long-term vision as a much-needed inspiration. Over the past 40 years, it has proven its ability to evolve and better address new and emerging challenges, and remains the reference for addressing future ones. Its legal tools, she said, are key to supporting implementation of ocean-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Other challenges, such as sea-level rise due to climate change, plastic pollution and maritime security threats can only be effectively addressed if solutions are built into the legal framework provided by the Convention. As the preservation of the blue planet and well-being of future generations are intrinsically linked to the peace, health and productivity of oceans, all States must fully and effectively implement their obligations under the Convention, she urged.
CEREN HANDE ÖZGÜR (Türkiye) expressed concern over multiple, extensive negative impacts of certain human activities and climate change on oceans and seas. However, the Convention does not provide sufficient safeguards for particular geographical situations, where special circumstances prevail due to application of Convention provisions for enclosed or semi-enclosed seas, at the expense of vital interests and legitimate rights of relevant States. Hence, although her country agrees with the Convention generally and with most of its revisions, Türkiye is unable to become a party to it due to those prominent shortcomings.