49th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session

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11-Dec-2018 03:08:11
Adopting two resolutions, General Assembly speakers stress that healthy, resilient oceans, seas play central role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals at 49th and 50th plenary meetings.

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The General Assembly today adopted two texts on the oceans and seas linked to the implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with speakers asserting during the annual debate on the matter that healthy, productive, resilient oceans and seas are central to sustainable development.

By the terms of the draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document number A/73/L.35) – adopted by a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela) – the Assembly calls upon States that have not done so to become parties to the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It further calls upon States to harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of the Convention.

Singapore’s representative, who introduced the omnibus text, said the text covers a wide range of issues and takes stock of activities at the International Seabed Authority, including efforts on regulations for exploitation of mineral resources. “The resolution recognizes the needs of developing States in the context of making submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf,” he said, adding that it underscores the importance of work undertaken to elaborate an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity.

The General Assembly – acting without a vote - also adopted the draft, “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/73/L.41).

Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reaffirms the importance it attaches to the long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of the living marine resources of the world’s oceans and seas and the obligations of States to cooperate to this end. The Assembly also urges States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.

“This year’s draft resolution is a step forward in the conservation and management of fish stocks,” said Norway’s representative while introducing the draft. She noted that sustainable food from aquatic ecosystems plays an increasingly critical role in global food and nutrition security, adding that the draft addresses the sustainability of small-scale fisheries, the combating of illegal fishing and the issue of fishing overcapacity.

However, following the adoption of both drafts, representatives of countries not party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea voiced their opposition to references to that Convention in the draft resolutions. Among them was the representative of Turkey who had called for the vote on draft “L.35” and subsequently voted against it. The Convention, he stressed, “is neither universal nor has a unified character”.

The representative of Venezuela – who abstained in the vote – also noted that the Convention does not enjoy universal participation and should not be considered the only legal instrument governing the sea. There are other international instruments that could be applied, she pointed out.

Throughout the debate, speakers asserted the central role of healthy oceans and seas in the pursuit of development and the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Several delegations reaffirmed that the Convention on the Law of the Sea is the institutional framework of all activities in the oceans and seas.

The delegate of Tuvalu, speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, underscored that healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas are critical for poverty eradication, access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, economic development and ecosystem services. “There are two paths to development,” he observed. “One involves handouts. The other involves creating an enabling environment for sustainable economic activity. Only one of them is going to succeed.”

Echoing the concerns of small island developing States was the representative of Jamaica who, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the fate of such States is integrally linked with the health of the ocean. While warning that collective international efforts have yielded mixed results, she pointed to regional efforts that have seen several CARICOM members States ban single-use plastics. As well, the bloc has joined several international instruments regulating the health of the seas and fishing practices.

For her part, the representative of Iceland said that through the resolutions, the General Assembly consistently highlights the universal and unified character of the Convention. “Sustainable management of natural resources is fundamental to our success,” she said. However, she warned that the impact of climate change is among the most pressing issues facing the international community.

Her concerns on the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems and biodiversity were shared by many Member States. A number of delegations voiced their regret that, despite ongoing efforts, the oceans continue to be threatened by pollution and overfishing.

The representative of Nauru, who spoke for the Pacific Islands Forum, said “climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people”. She cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said increasing warming will amplify the risks related to sea level rise for many human and ecological systems.

The world, observed the representative of Maldives, has failed to act in the face of climate change. “Irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems are likely even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” she stressed, cautioning that, unless there is a dramatic shift in human behaviour, the oceanographic processes that moderate the global climate may be altered.

The representative of Monaco declared: “Plastic pollution is a global scourge that affects the entire food chain of every living organism on the planet”. Policy changes to address that issue at the local level must be encouraged, he emphasized, reporting that Monaco has launched restrictions on single-use plastics.

Updating the Assembly on the work of their respective entities were Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, and Jin-Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Mr. Lodge commended the Assembly for recognizing the Authority’s fundamental role in collecting and sharing data and information on the deep seabed. Mr. Paik recalled cases the Tribunal is deliberating on and said an efficient system for settling disputes requires designated Government officials who are familiar with law of sea matters.

The Assembly also had before it two reports of the Secretary-General on “Oceans and the law of the sea” (documents A/73/68 and A/73/368); a report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its nineteenth meeting (document A/73/124); and two reports on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (documents A/73/74 and A/73/373).

Also speaking were representatives of China, United States, Japan, Mexico, Kuwait, Bangladesh, India, Monaco, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Togo, Ukraine, Australia, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Cameroon, and El Salvador, as well as the European Union.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 December, to consider the culture of peace, elect members of the Committee for Programme and Coordination and appoint members of the Committee on Conferences.

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