Statement by H.E. Jörundur Valtýsson, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
General Assembly, 74th session, 10 December 2019
Agenda item 74 – Oceans and the Law of the Sea
Surrounded by the sea, Icelanders have based their existence to a great extent on ocean-related activities throughout history. Sustainable use of living marine resources is the basis of our prosperity. Robust and healthy marine ecosystems are central in our foreign policy and we have prioritized ocean affairs in Iceland’s chairmanships in the Arctic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers this past year.
Iceland places great emphasis on, and are pleased to co-sponsor, the two annual oceans resolutions under discussion today. As always, they deal with pertinent issues that are of importance to all nations. My Government welcomes the decision to address sea level rise in next year’s meeting of the Informal Consultative Process. This issue is of great concern and a matter of emergency, especially to many small island states that are particularly exposed to the consequences of climate change. Meanwhile, we deeply regret that we were not able to reach consensus on stronger language on climate change in the resolutions. The impacts of climate change are less visible in the ocean than on land, but they are no less profound. Indeed, climate change is also an ocean change.
In that regard, we welcome the latest Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere. The report outlines climate-related risks and challenges at present and for the future. Sea ice is receding – rapidly in the north. This has resulted in shifts in species composition, abundance and biomass production of ecosystems, affecting fisheries and livelihoods. Ocean acidification is a real and serious threat to marine life. Science tells us that we must act quickly to halt current trends. An important element is to bring climate aspects into the ocean agenda.
Iceland is committed to doing its part and is working to reach the Paris Agreement goals by 2030. We aim at carbon neutrality by 2040. We aim at further support to low-income countries, including through increased funding for the Green Climate Fund. Iceland participated actively in the preparation and the execution of the Climate Action Summit in September, with a focus on nature-based solutions.
During Iceland’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the Arctic Marine Environment will be one of three main priority areas. In April 2020 we will be organising an international
symposium on the threat of plastics to Arctic marine ecosystems and we hope to agree on a regional action plan on marine litter during our chairmanship. We are also planning a Ministerial meeting on the Arctic Oceans and will be running numerous oceans related projects, for example on the Blue BioEconomy and Arctic Marine Tourism.
And our work on the oceans during our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council is leveraged by our priorities during Iceland’s Presidency in the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019. We prioritized the ocean and blue growth in the North and put emphasis, among other, on blue innovation and innovation ecosystems in ports, energy transformation in ships and plastics in the marine environment.
Further, Iceland is strongly committed to the WTO negotiations on prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, in line with our Agenda 2030 commitments. We are disappointed that the 2019 deadline was not achieved and remain hopeful that the matter may be brought to a satisfactory conclusion by mid-2020.
Oceans are of fundamental importance to all States. Without a clean, healthy, productive ocean, Agenda 2030 will be impossible to attain. The effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and its implementing agreements, will have a critical impact on progress in this regard.
It is Iceland’s firm position that UNCLOS sets out the legal framework, within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. The management of high seas fisheries through a regional approach, in line with the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, has proven a firm basis for sustainable management.
Iceland is an active participant in the ongoing negotiations of the new Implementing Agreement under UNCLOS on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction. We are cognisant of the importance, complexity and sensitivity of this endeavour and thank Ambassador Rena Lee from Singapore and her outstanding colleagues in her national team and in DOALOS for their able leadership.
This is important work as we are negotiating a Convention which will last for decades to come. The new BBNJ institutional structure needs to be adapted to the existing regional and sectoral bodies, in a careful and dedicated manner, so that these bodies are not undermined in their respective fields of expertise and decision making. We should focus on the quality of the BBNJ instrument rather than speed in the negotiations. We also reiterate our view that consensus is both a prerequisite for developing the BBNJ instrument and for universal participation in it.
Ocean science must take centre stage in the debate on oceans and sustainable development. All policies for the conservation and sustainable management of the oceans should be based on sound scientific research. This year’s Informal Consultative Process shed light on this important cross-cutting topic, which will feed into the UN Decade on Ocean Science 2021-2030. We welcome that this theme will also feature prominently at the UN Ocean Conference, to be held in Lisbon next year, which will provide good opportunities to build partnerships and share best practices.
Turning to a particular issue dealt with in the omnibus resolution, we welcome the positive steps taken regarding the ongoing issue of medical insurance coverage of members of the Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The importance of the work of the Commission cannot be overstated and Iceland wishes to ensure that the needs of its members are met to the greatest extent possible.
We are therefore extremely concerned by the chronic underfunding of the Voluntary Trust Fund for the purpose of defraying the cost of participation of the CLCS members from developing States in the meetings of the Commission. Iceland will continue to make contributions to the trust fund, and we encourage other Member States to do so as well.
Before I conclude, I would like to express our gratitude to the two skilled facilitators who sailed the resolutions to a safe harbour, Mr. Andreas Kravik from Norway, and Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma from Singapore. We would also like to thank the Director of DOALOS, Ms. Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli, for her steadfast stewardship and wish her all the best in her retirement.
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. Iceland looks forward to another active year of ocean affairs in 2020.