On Convention’s Fortieth Anniversary, Secretary-General Stresses ‘Ocean Is Choking from Pollution’, Calls for False Dichotomy between Profit, Protection to End

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in New York today:

The ocean is life.  The ocean is livelihoods and the ocean binds humanity together across history and cultures.  From the air we breathe, to the atmosphere that sustains all life, to the ocean-based industries that employ some 40 million people, to the species that call the ocean home.

Four decades ago, the world took a vital step to bring governance and order to the ocean and its seas.  Today, we gather to mark the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Its near-universal acceptance reflects the fundamental importance of the landmark Convention and its legal framework and related instruments to countries around the world. 

From ensuring the sustainability, conservation and management of the world’s fisheries.  To protecting and preserving the marine environment.  To delineating the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.  To sustainably and equitably managing mineral-related activities in the international seabed area.  To establishing the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and ensuring that disputes are peacefully settled.

As we gather today, the Convention is more relevant than ever.  The ocean is in dire straits.  Today, 35 per cent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited.  Sea levels are rising.  The ocean is acidifying and choked with pollution.  Life-sustaining coral reefs are bleaching and dying.

Epic floods threaten coastal cities around the world and small island developing states and coastal communities face massive challenges as they confront rising sea levels.  In too many cases, people working in ocean-based industries are not accessing the support or safe working conditions they need and deserve.

The ocean — and the people counting on it — are calling for greater ambition.  The Declaration adopted at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon this year reminds us of that.  The Convention’s fortieth anniversary is an important reminder to continue using this critical instrument to tackle today’s challenges.

This means swiftly implementing the recently adopted Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies.  It means continuing the vital work of the Regular Process now under way to ensure that all decisions about the ocean are underpinned by the best science, and the best economic and social expertise.

It means bringing the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local communities into the Convention and other related instruments.  It means ending the plastic pollution crisis.  And it means concluding next year the agreement on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction being negotiated under the Convention.  This agreement is long overdue — and critical to restoring the health, resilience and productivity of the ocean.

It is high time to end the false dichotomy between profit and protection of the ocean.  If we fail to protect the ocean and its seas, there can be no profit for anyone.  Governments at all levels should develop laws and policies that put protection and conservation first — from conservation-based fisheries management approaches, to expanded marine protected areas, to ocean-based solutions to meet climate goals, to reducing chemical pollution and cleaning up plastic waste.

Ocean-based industries and investors should make conservation, protection and climate resilience a top priority across their business plans — along with a commitment to creating safer working conditions.

And we must support developing countries — especially small island developing states — as they balance the need for thriving coastal economies with the need to protect and preserve the ocean and its seas for future generations.  This includes meaningful progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Finance for Development.

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.  On this fortieth anniversary, I encourage 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.  Let us safely deliver these incredible gifts into the waiting hands of the next generation.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.