39th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 75th Session

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08-Dec-2020 01:59:44
General Assembly adopts resolution regarding sustainable fisheries, postpones action on Law of Sea Convention, awaiting input concerning text’s budget implications.

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Anticipated Watershed Year for Negotiations on Conserving Marine Biological Diversity, Other World Ocean Issues, Delayed by COVID‑19 Pandemic, Delegates Say

The General Assembly adopted a draft resolution today on sustainable fisheries, and postponed action on a second text on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as delegates reflected on how the COVID‑19 pandemic derailed what should have been a watershed year for international action on the world’s oceans.

Acting without a vote, it adopted the draft resolution “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”.

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.

Through the 43‑page text, it urged States to address the impacts of global climate change and ocean acidification on coral reefs and other ecosystems relevant to fisheries. It also called upon them to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing — a major threat to fish stocks and marine ecosystems as well as to food security and economic development in many developing States.

The Assembly postponed action on the omnibus draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” to enable its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to review its programme budget implications. That text would, among other things, have the world body reaffirm the unified character of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the vital importance of preserving its integrity.

Norway’s representative, introducing the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, said that it was, to a large extent, a technical rollover of last year’s text, negotiated through virtual meetings and written communications. Delegations agreed that updates should be limited to those required for forthcoming missions, issues with budgetary implications and mandate renewals.

Singapore’s representative, introducing the draft text on oceans and the law of the sea, similarly described it as a technical rollover of last year’s resolution. Changes were limited to those sections dealing with meetings to be held in 2021 as well as mandate renewals. The text also touched upon pandemic‑related issues, such as the plight of seafarers, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates said that COVID‑19 upset what should have been a “super year” for ocean issues, including the postponement of the second United Nations Ocean Conference and the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Both events now are expected to take place in 2021, coinciding with the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Belize’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that the pandemic has clarified global priorities and sparked greater cooperation. Any truly successful approach to COVID‑19 recovery must involve environmentally and scientifically informed efforts to ensure more sustainable ocean activities that will tackle climate change and the need for equitable enjoyment of ocean resources, she said.

Barbados’ representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the impacts of the pandemic are steering attention away from the conservation and sustainable use of oceans while also bringing CARICOM economies to a virtual halt. With the 2020 hurricane season producing around 30 named storms in the Caribbean, she said that evidence‑based and proactive decision‑making will be fundamental to build resilience in the region.

Australia’s delegate, advocating for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law, was among several speakers raising concerns about the South China Sea and freedom of navigation. While Canberra is not taking sides on competing territorial claims in the area, it does oppose maritime claims that are inconsistent with the Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.

China’s representative proposed that States establish “blue partnerships” — which foster shared benefits, ensure the complementarity of marine industry and maritime safety and security — and settle disputes through dialogue. He added that Beijing takes a zero‑tolerance approach to illegal fishing and that it is considering acceding to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.

Fiji’s representative called climate change the most significant threat to the Blue Pacific. Stressing that maritime boundaries, once determined, cannot be affected by changes arising from human action, he said that to do otherwise would be the equivalent of asking the victim of a crime to compensate the perpetrators.

Mexico’s representative said that his country is committed to improving the health of marine ecosystems through global initiatives aimed at addressing ghost fishing. He added that the international community must avoid overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Canada’s representative, whose country boasts the world’s longest coastline, said that the world is not only facing a health and economic crisis, but also an environmental crisis. “We need to adopt a blue lens,” he said, emphasizing that economic recovery and environmental protection must go hand-in-hand.

Also speaking today were representatives of Argentina, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, Monaco, Maldives, Philippines, Costa Rica, Iran, Brazil, Viet Nam, United States, Germany, Nauru, India, Japan, Iceland, France, Honduras, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Ukraine, Chile and Indonesia, as well as the European Union.

An observer for the International Seabed Authority also spoke.

Representatives of Turkey, Venezuela and Colombia spoke in explanation of position.

The representatives of China, Malaysia, Argentina and the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 December, to take action on a draft resolution on the situation in Afghanistan, and at 3 p.m. to consider reports from its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).

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