43rd Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 74th Session

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10-Dec-2019 02:58:00
General Assembly discusses oceans, the law of the sea, sustainable fisheries, conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks at the 43rd Plenary meeting.

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The General Assembly today adopted two resolutions on the oceans and seas linked to implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with speakers asserting during their annual debate that threats to the world’s marine ecosystem require firm political commitment and action.

By the terms of the resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/74/L.22) — adopted by a recorded vote of 135 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela) — the Assembly called on 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 called on them to harmonize national legislation with the Convention, and for capacity-building initiatives to consider the needs of developing countries. It also urged all States to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea and ensure freedom and safety of navigation.

Singapore’s representative, who introduced the omnibus text, said it is among the Assembly’s most important annual resolutions. By its terms, the Assembly will encourage the International Seabed Authority to continue its work as a matter of priority. The text also touches on the issues of climate change and sea-level rise, addresses the ongoing process of negotiating an agreement on marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, notes preparations for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and includes revised paragraphs on capacity‑building aimed at improving the resolution’s overall coherence.

Explaining his vote against the text, Turkey’s delegate said his country is not party to the Convention and does not agree that it has a “universal and unified character”. It is not the only legal framework regulating ocean activities. “The Convention does not provide sufficient safeguards for particular geographical situations and, as a consequence, does not take into consideration conflicting interests and sensitivities stemming from special circumstances,” he said.

The General Assembly also adopted a consensus resolution, titled “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/74/L.21).

By its terms, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of the long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of living marine ocean resources and State obligations to cooperate to this end. It urged States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.

Regional cooperation is crucial for ensuring better coordination and policy coherence, said Norway’s representative introducing the draft. Pointing to the arrangement between the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic and the North‑East Atlantic Fisheries Commission as a good example of such cooperation, she said the experience gained could serve as a model for other regions to strengthen a cross-sectoral approach.

In the ensuing debate, Papua New Guinea’s delegate, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, lamented that in both resolutions, the Assembly was unable to reach consensus on paragraphs related to the findings of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report, stressing that it is not enough to simply note the special report with concern. The Assembly must cite specific findings about the impact of climate change on the ocean and cryosphere, as well as any actions that must be taken to address them. “Anything less is a disservice to the critical work of the [Intergovernmental Panel] and an inaccurate reflection of the importance that a vast majority of Member States place on such work,” he said, warning that “the future is bleak unless global efforts are mobilized”.

Echoing that concern was Belize’s representative, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, who said climate change will not be solved by simply “noting” such findings. Rather, ambitious global action is needed to counter deleterious effects on oceans and coastal communities. “The world’s oceans belong to all of us, so we all must rise to the challenges of protecting them,” he said.

Grenada’s delegate, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also expressed serious concern over the special report’s findings. Of particular importance are its conclusions about the deleterious impact of climate change on low-lying islands, especially small island developing States, coasts and communities. The report stands as a timely reminder of what must be done by all countries, especially developed ones, to address this challenge, she said. In broad agreement, the European Union’s representative added that “the science is clear that climate change represents an existential threat to life on Earth”.

Many delegates also raised the issue of marine waste, with the representative of the Maldives warning that negligence has allowed trillions of pieces of non-biodegradable plastic to float around the world, endangering natural equilibriums and ecosystems. Despite a comprehensive plan to phase out single-use plastics by 2023, the Maldives needs the help of likeminded Governments and the private sector to tackle the issue, he said, stressing that efforts to protect the ocean rely on effective regulation, as represented by the “major advancement” of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The representative of Argentina said issue of marine waste must be dealt with in the General Assembly, noting that the Convention outlines the topic in detail. As innovation and new technology must be harnessed for the responsible production and disposal of plastics, Argentina, for its part, established guidelines for the sustainable management of plastics use. In that vein, Mexico’s representative said countries must do more to address pollution from land sources, particularly plastics and anthropogenic noise.

Updating the Assembly 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 emphasized that a global system for protecting the marine environment will not be complete without a long-term engagement to deliver on capacity-building needs. The Seabed Authority secretariat alone will be unable to meet all the goals without the committed engagement of the international community. Mr. Paik recalled cases the Tribunal is deliberating, its capacity-building activities and stressed the importance of the dispute-settlement system to be included in the new international legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Assembly also had before it two reports of the Secretary-General on “Oceans and the law of the sea” (documents A/74/70 and A/74/350); a report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its twentieth meeting (document A/74/119); and a report 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/74/315).

Also speaking were representatives of Vanuatu (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Germany, Monaco, Iceland, China, United Arab Emirates, Togo, Canada, Australia, Cuba, Honduras, United States, Japan, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, India, Brazil, Iran and Bangladesh.

Representatives of the Federated States of Micronesia, Turkey and Greece also spoke in explanation of vote.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 December, to consider global health and foreign policy.

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