General Assembly: Plenary

Note:  A complete summary of today’s General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

KATE NEILSON (New Zealand) introduced the draft resolution, “International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction” (document A/72/L.7).  The text would have the Assembly decide to convene an international meeting, determine the conference’s start date and its timing, as well as the necessary details to ensure its smooth functioning.  Noting that New Zealand had also co-sponsored two draft resolutions to be introduced by other speakers, she said her delegation further aligned itself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The fore mentioned draft text on areas beyond national jurisdiction would have the Assembly decide that the conference would begin in 2018, with further meetings scheduled for 2019 and 2020, she continued.  It also laid out the conference’s modalities, requested the Secretary-General to nominate a president or presidents of the conference, and asked the United Nations Secretariat to support it.  To date, the text was supported by 133 co-sponsors, she said, expressing hope that additional sponsors would come forward and that the Assembly would adopt it by consensus.  By other terms of the text, the Assembly would decide that the topics to be addressed at the conference would include marine genetic resources, area-based management tools including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments and capacity-building, and the transfer of marine technology.

THEMBILE JOYINI (South Africa), introducing an omnibus draft resolution titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/72/L.18), said the text recalled the Assembly’s annual resolutions on oceans and the Law of the Sea.  Underscoring the importance of the text on areas beyond national jurisdiction as one critical element, he said the adoption of an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was potentially one of the most significant in international environmental law-making, promising to address the Convention’s legal, governance, regulatory and implementation gaps.  The draft resolution on oceans and the Law of the Sea, meanwhile, welcomed progress in the work of the International Seabed Authority on draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in what was known as the “Area”.

Noting that the Area and its resources were the common heritage of mankind — and meant to benefit humankind as a whole — he said the Authority therefore had a fundamental role to play in ensuring that an appropriate regulatory regime was established in accordance with the Convention.  In addition, it should provide adequate security of tenure for future exploitation of the mineral resources of the Area, while ensuring the effective protection for the marine environment.  Stressing that the clear and literal meaning of the Convention’s article 145 made plain that the Authority had a role to play in the preservation and conservation of the marine environment, he said that solemn responsibility must be carried out faithfully.  The objectives of part XI of the Convention would only be realized when the world moved to the mining phase, which must be accompanied by benefit sharing.  Without such sharing, he warned that “the strong would get stronger, the rich would get richer, and among the rich themselves there would arise an increasing and insuperable differentiation between two or three and the remainder.”

He went on to say that, by other terms of the 56‑page text, the Assembly would also make specific recommendations in such areas as capacity-building; the peaceful settlement of disputes; the continental shelf and the work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; maritime safety; marine biodiversity; marine science; and the global process for reporting on the state of the marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects.  In addition, the Assembly would express serious concern about the number of States Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea who were in arrears of their assessed contributions to the International Seabed Authority, as well as about the low attendance at the annual sessions of the Authority’s Assembly.

ANDREAS MOTZFELDT KRAVIK (Norway) introduced 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” (document  A/72/L.12).

Fisheries provided a vital source of food, employment, trade and economic well-being for people throughout the world, he noted.  The draft addressed critical issues, such as achieving sustainable fisheries, combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and addressing fishing overcapacity and improving subregional and regional cooperation to achieve sustainable development.  The resolution also highlighted the importance of responsible practices for conservation of fisheries resources and the sustainable management and development of fisheries, and recalled the entry into force of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

He said that the text would have the Assembly call on all States that had not done so to become parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.  The Assembly would also call on States and regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements to assess the risks and potential adverse impacts of climate change with respect to fish stocks, and consider them when establishing conservation and management measures and identifying options to reduce risks and adverse impacts.

Encouraging States to apply precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches when adopting and implementing conservation and management measures, the draft resolution would call upon all States that had not yet done so to ratify or accede to the Convention’s 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to implement its provisions in their national legislation, as well as regional fisheries management organizations in which they participated.

Proclaiming 5 June as the “International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing” — and inviting the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to serve as lead agency for the Day — he also said that the text would have the Assembly make recommendations in such areas as monitoring, control and surveillance; compliance and enforcement; fishing overcapacity; large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing; and fisheries by-catch and discards.  Among other things, it would encourage States to improve the understanding of the causes and impacts of forced labour and human trafficking in the fishing and aquaculture industries, and to further consider actions to combat those practices, including by raising awareness.


DIEGO MOREJÓN PAZMIÑO (Ecuador), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, thanked the facilitators in drafting the proposed resolution on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, saying that consultation had been conducted in an open and transparent way.  Noting that the Group of 77 was fully committed to the process, he said the draft text represented a compromise to move forward to developing an international legally binding instrument.

He also welcomed the Assembly’s consideration of convening an intergovernmental conference in 2018.  That meeting would take up the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly resolution 69/292 on the elements of the text of an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), speaking for the African Group, said conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was crucial for the future of humankind.  Adding that all member States of his group were co-sponsors of the draft resolution, he pointed out that few drafts not directly initiated by the African Group enjoyed such support within it.

The Group fully supported the decision to convene an intergovernmental conference in 2018 to elaborate a new treaty on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he continued.  However, it was regrettable that the conference would be held in September, only a few days before the High-level week of the seventy‑third United Nations General Assembly.  Underlining the importance of providing financial contributions to the Voluntary Trust Fund to support participation of African States at the conference, he urged stakeholders in a position to do so to widely contribute to that Fund.

COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the Community remained committed to the full implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.  As the cornerstone for regulating all activities pertaining to oceans and seas, the Convention was a central framework for addressing the closely interrelated nature of ocean space problems.  Like many other small island developing countries, the member States of CARICOM were highly vulnerable to the effects of marine pollution, ocean acidification and their impacts on fish stocks and marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, as well as the effect of climate change on sea level rise.  Those factors affected their fishing communities, tourism and its people and economies at all levels.

As evidenced by the recent hurricanes Irma and Maria, the region remained highly susceptible to extreme weather events, but its resolve to better respond to those challenges had strengthened, he said.  Antigua and Barbuda was the first CARICOM country to ban single plastic bags and was expanding the ban to include polystyrene or Styrofoam containers.  St. Vincent and the Grenadines had committed to conserve and sustainably manage at least 20 per cent of its marine and coastal environment by 2020.  Jamaica’s goal was to strengthen the regime governing its protected areas through promulgation of a Cays Management Policy, a new protected areas policy and overarching protected areas legislation.  Guyana was developing a suite of interrelated services to better manage its coastal ecosystem, including data gathering, social mobilization and capacity development.

JANE J. CHIGIYAL (Federated States of Micronesia), speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said the serious and mounting threats to oceans constituted a serious challenge to achieving sustainable development.  Healthy and productive oceans and seas were essential for the development of any country, particularly those in the Pacific.  She welcomed the first United Nations conference to support the implementation of the goals on oceans.  Pacific small island developing States were not alone in reacting with deep concern to the threats facing the world’s oceans, she noted.

Climate change would be the defining security challenge of the century, she went on to say, reiterating the call for the appointment of a United Nations climate and security expert.  In a similar vein, she noted the relevant role of United Nations reports in lending support and knowledge to the region.  The importance of healthy fisheries could not be overstated.  In particular, tuna had been a source of food and livelihood for the Pacific for centuries.  That fish stock’s decline was of serious concern, she continued, adding that she was pleased to see a “Day of Tuna” included in the new resolution.

ALI’IOAIGA FETURI ELISAIA (Samoa), speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, recalled that in September the bloc had endorsed “The Blue Pacific — our security through sustainable development, management and conservation” as its new narrative for the region.  The importance of tuna had been increasing, he noted, with more attention being directed to conservation measures and promoting more sustainable fishing practices in tuna fisheries.  During the first half of 2017, the Pacific Islands Forum had focused its work on the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, held in June.  More than 1,400 voluntary commitments had been registered to drive the Goal’s implementation forward, with Forum members pledging more than 100 voluntary commitments and launching new partnerships.  In September, Forum leaders had also pledged to fast-track developing policies to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic and Styrofoam packaging.

The bloc’s leaders had called for commencing United Nations negotiations for a new Law of the Sea Implementing Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction, he continued.  In that regard, he welcomed the successful conclusion in July of the fourth meeting of the Preparatory Committee and looked forward to the intergovernmental conference mandated by the draft resolution on that topic (document A/72/L.7).  In June, an informal consultative process had examined the effects of climate change on oceans, looking at the science as well as the scale of effects.  Considering that the majority of the Forum members were small island States, effects such as ocean warming, acidification, sea level rises and others had profound socioeconomic consequences for them, highlighting their vulnerability.  More support and sustainable funding for ocean-related activities were needed to mitigate and build resilience against the effects of climate change on oceans.

JOANNE ADAMSON (European Union) said that the resolution, “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”, served to focus on issues in the marine domain, including fisheries and the marine environment.  The second resolution to be adopted on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea reflected customary international law and established the overarching legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out.  The third resolution aimed for a new implementing agreement under the Conventions on the Law of the Sea, addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Discussions and negotiations on that instrument would enable the General Assembly to convene an intergovernmental conference to negotiate a new implementing agreement of the Convention.  However, she voiced concern that one paragraph of recommendations was not an element that generated convergence among most delegations.

Turning to the resolution on sustainable fisheries, she expressed appreciation for the importance it accorded to the need to effectively manage fisheries methods.  One of the main impediments to achieving sustainable fisheries was illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, she said, urging all States to sign up to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.  She noted that the topics chosen for the next meetings of the States Parties to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement were highly relevant, and should help to improve fisheries management in line with the recommendations from the 2016 review conference.

TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh), speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said 2017 had been a fruitful year in the context of developing an internationally legally binding instrument under the 1982 Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

“Following years of discussion, we have finally arrived at a moment where we can expect to embark on intergovernmental, text-based negotiations on the proposed legally binding instrument,” he said, underlining the important recommendations pertaining to the interest of the Group in that regard.  The needs of those nations must be considered to be cross-cutting in nature across the topics identified for inclusion in the proposed legally binding instrument.  As well, the Voluntary Trust Fund played an important role in supporting delegates and experts from least developed countries to participate in the negotiation process.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) said the oceans not only provided a livelihood for millions of people through sustaining food security and maritime trade, but also regulated the climate and were an important source of renewable energy.  As a small island State, the oceans and seas were inextricably linked to his country’s survival and wellbeing.  As for the International Seabed Authority, he welcomed the increased outreach by its Secretariat and its restructuring efforts to improve the Authority’s efficiency.  Concerning the preparatory process addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he expressed support for the draft resolution on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the Convention.  Towards that end, he called for a consensual approach that ensured no party was left behind.  Turning to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, he called for a concerted and collective action to address ocean issues on a global scale.

ISABELLE ROSABRUNETTO (Monaco) said that the complexity of challenges facing the world called for a holistic response, particularly in the area of ocean conservation.  The international community must take part in concrete, effective and multi-party partnerships, she added, noting that protection of the environment was linked to the good health of whole societies.  The human impact on the environment ecosystem must be further studied.  All countries benefitted from the use of marine resources and environment protection.  She noted several programmes her country was taking part in to strengthen capacity-building and scientific cooperation.  There was still much work to be done, she said, noting studies showing that marine protected areas played a critical role in combating climate change.  Monaco had participated in several regional and international conferences, and had recently hosted a conference on the Mediterranean Sea.  She also said it was essential to evaluate trends of production and consumption.

JUN HASEBE (Japan), expressing support for the work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority, said a balanced approach to the exploitation of the deep seabed — taking environmental conservation into account — was needed.  Japan would continue to engage constructively toward the adoption of a rational Exploitation Code in that regard.  Bearing in mind the importance of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he said that his country, alongside the United Nations University, would hold an international symposium in Tokyo on 14 December aimed at raising greater awareness of the Commission’s achievements.  As for maritime safety and security, he underlined the importance of responding to piracy and armed robbery against ships.  With regards to marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he noted that his delegation had co-sponsored the related draft resolution, adding that he looked forward to contributing to discussions in the forthcoming international conference leading to a well-balanced, effective and universal legally binding instrument.

CAITLIN WILSON (Australia), associating herself with the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomed the annual omnibus resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.  The Convention compelled countries to cooperate to conserve the living resources of the high seas, while also guaranteeing a suite of rights, such as navigation rights, which were vital to shipping and trading nations such as hers.  Turning to illicit wildlife trafficking, she pointed out that it threatened the survival of marine species such as corals, clams, seahorses and turtles.  Transnational criminal networks often used marine routes as part of their trafficking supply chain, she said, adding that the resolution highlighted the relevance of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes in addressing that issue.

MOHAMMAD H. M. S. ALAJMI (Kuwait) said that the maritime transport sector was considered the primary factor for trade and economic growth for most countries.  Ships transported some 80 per cent of goods around the world.  Therefore, piracy and terrorism aimed at ships constituted a serious threat to trade and those working on ships.  “We cannot defeat such challenges without the concerted efforts of the international community,” he said, urging collaboration and cooperation among countries.  He also called on all Member States to launch joint endeavours that would allow all to benefit from marine resources.  Furthermore, all Member States must commit to relevant international treaties and promote international peace and security.

MICHAEL BONSER (Canada) reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the sustainable management of its fisheries, as well as to surpassing the international marine conservation targets.  After years of effort, the international community was about to enter a critical phase in the development of the Agreement addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Stressing that scientific evidence pointed to climate change as one of the greatest threats of the current era, he highlighted its widespread impacts on oceans, ranging from coastal flooding to the expanding melt of sea ice in the Arctic.  Canadian marine scientists were pursuing research on climate change and ocean acidification through the Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program which aimed at informing future policy development and evidence-based resource management decisions.

MATTHIAS G. PALSSON (Iceland), noting that livelihoods in his country had depended on sustainable use of ocean resources for centuries, said that sea law had never been more challenging due to the need to respond to the results of human activity.  The effects of climate change were already being felt in his country.  Concerted international action was needed to protect Arctic waters, he stressed, reporting that his country and nine other parties had last week negotiated a draft agreement to prevent unregulated fisheries in parts of that region.  Marine litter, as well as comprehensive implementation of the various ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals were also priorities.  Iceland had been an active participant in negotiations on a framework for biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  He urged that every effort be made to reach a consensus-based text on that topic despite its complexity.  However, issues that were already subject to adequate international regimes should not be re-negotiated or subject to conflicting regimes, he said, adding that it was critical to take all the time needed to produce a successful and long-lasting outcome.

TEODORO LOPEZ LOCSIN, JR. (Philippines) said that sustainable ocean management was critical for an archipelagic country such as his.  Oceans were not only a source of life-giving goods, everything about them were living.  As a party to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, the Philippines was committed to the conservation of, and sustainable access to standing and highly migratory fish stocks — within and beyond the exclusive economic zone.  Collective neglect and greedy exhaustion of the oceans’ resources for immediate gain, and at the cost of irreversible damage, had resulted in ever smaller fisheries catch and in the worsening illicit trafficking in protected species.  It also had resulted in ocean acidification, coral bleaching, sea-level rise, coastal flooding and deadlier tropical cyclones brought on by ocean warming.  His country supported the strengthening of capacity-building, along with the transfer of marine technology, education and the sharing of traditional knowledge on oceans issues, including in the prevention of the smuggling of migrants and human trafficking by sea and in fighting piracy.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea struck a delicate balance between States’ rights and obligations; that must always be carefully respected.  Expressing support for the convening of a conference on the important issue of marine biodiversity in zones beyond national jurisdiction, he underlined the need to take account of the conservation and sustainable use of such resources.  In 1970, the Assembly had declared zones beyond national jurisdiction to be the common heritage of all mankind.  Noting that 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he expressed concern about that body’s inadequate service conditions, including its staff’s lack of medical coverage.  Stressing that all negotiations related to the Law of the Sea should continue to be adopted by consensus, he expressed concern over statements made by some parties seeking to legitimize regional fisheries management mechanisms whose activities went beyond their scope and orbit, or which assumed authority over vessels flying the flags of countries that were not parties to those organizations.  He voiced further concern over attempts to legitimize the actions by some groups of States, which were trying to establish regulations over marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, even before a legal instrument on those matters had been developed.

CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta) recalled that 50 years ago, his country’s then permanent representative, Arvid Pardo had stated that the seabed, ocean floor and sub-soil were “the common heritage of mankind” and should be used for peaceful purposes and for the exclusive benefit of humanity.  That stance earned Mr. Pardo the title of “Father of the Modern Law of the Sea”.  On 15 December, Malta would host an international symposium to discuss global ocean governance, he continued, adding his support for the establishment of an intergovernmental panel on ocean governance to address the current fragmented state of affairs still governing the ocean, despite the very valuable and indispensable work being undertaken by the United Nations.

WU HAITAO (China) said that his country’s Belt and Road Initiative, in particular the building of the twenty-first century Maritime Silk Road, would strongly boost international cooperation in ocean affairs under the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and benefit sharing.  Those efforts would strike a balance between protection and sustainable use of the oceans, while promoting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The proposed draft agreement on marine biological diversity neither covered all items nor represented consensus and would have, as such, no effect on future positions of parties.  Regulations addressing the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area must be commensurate with the current level of human activities in and knowledge of the Area.