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General debate on agenda items 75 (a), (b) and (c): Oceans and the law of the sea

Statement by H.E. Jörundur Valtýsson
Permanent Representative of Iceland
General Assembly 78th session, 5 December 2023
Agenda Items 75 (a), (b) and (c): Oceans and the law of the sea

Mr. President,

This year we celebrate the adoption and the opening for signature of a new implementing agreement under UNCLOS. It is remarkable that even in the current geopolitical climate, the global community was not only able to conclude the negotiations, but also came together and adopted, by consensus, the Agreement 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, commonly referred to as the BBNJ Agreement or the High Seas Treaty.

While the adoption of the Agreement was a huge step, we must still be aware that nothing has yet been conserved or protected. We have only begun our journey, and this is but the first step. For all our efforts to become effective, we must first secure the 60 ratifications needed for the Agreement’s entry into force.

As often reiterated, the sustainable use of the ocean is a cornerstone of Iceland’s prosperity. A healthy and bountiful ocean, with long-term sustainability at the core of all management decisions, is for the benefit of all. Conservation and sustainable use are not separate or conflicting notions, but two sides of the same coin.

Iceland remains committed to the health of our Ocean and we see the new BBNJ Agreement as an important addition to the law of the sea family, under the Convention, our constitution of the Ocean. The BBNJ Agreement provides us with many of the tools we need to achieve our common objectives, some of which were set out in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity almost a year ago.

These are some of the building blocks that we, as an international community, need to have in place to secure the health of our Ocean. Another vital addition will be the future UN plastics treaty - an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Iceland looks forward to seeing negotiations on the plastics treaty concluded.

Mr. President,

Based on a proposal put forward by Iceland and Norway, come June next year, UN Member States will come together for a week under the auspices of the Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea, to discuss a topic of critical importance: The Ocean as a Source of Sustainable Food.

We believe this topic is of high relevance for two main reasons: Firstly, global hunger and food insecurity is far above pre-covid-pandemic levels. In 2022, 2.4 billion people were moderately or severely food insecure, according to the FAO.

Secondly, at a time when humanity desperately tries to find ways to contain global heating below 1,5° C, before it becomes too late – sustainable, nutritious food from the Ocean can help, due to its low carbon intensity. There is both great potential and significant challenges in terms of food from the Ocean, and some exciting new research

The Ocean and climate change are intrinsically interlinked. We must recognize that connection and act accordingly. Ocean acidification is a challenge different from climate change, but the root cause of the problem is the same: The use of fossil fuels. Iceland supports the phasing out of fossil fuels, and subsidies of fossil fuels need to end. In the words of our Prime Minister at COP28: “We should not burn public money to cook the planet.” Humanity must switch to renewable energy.

Another challenge, emerging as one of the major global challenges of our time, is sea-level rise. With glaciers melting in the Arctic and elsewhere, sea-level rise is already taking place and will change the world as we know it, not least for those that call small island developing states and low-lying coastal areas their homes. Iceland supports the work of the International Law Commission on this topic and emphasizes that States should cooperate on it.

Another topic which States must cooperate on is harmful fisheries subsidies, which are a key factor in the widespread depletion of the world’s fish stocks, including due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies adopted last year was a major achievement in this field. Negotiations continue in Geneva on outstanding disciplines on subsidies leading to overcapacity and overfishing, this very week included, under the Chairmanship of Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland. We count on States to conclude these negotiations, for the benefit of our Ocean and our future.

Mr. President,

Iceland is proud to be the home country of Judge Tómas Heiðar, who recently got elected as the President of ITLOS, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Devoted to law of the sea for decades, President Tómas Heiðar has brought ample experience to the Court, both practical and academic.

The law of the sea, just as well as international law in general, is anchored in effective dispute settlement. It is a foundation of the rules-based international legal order and one of the reasons for the significant contribution UNCLOS has made to peace and security in our world.

Mr. President, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf continues its important work, faced with increasing workload. It is the view of Iceland that States Parties have a responsibility to make sure to provide sustainable resources for the CLCS to be able to do its job. Proper, long-term solutions must be found.

Mr. President,

The Third UN Ocean Conference is now on the horizon. Iceland looks forward to actively participating and is grateful to Costa Rica and France as co-hosts. The Conference will help us bring increased focus and accelerate action under Sustainable Development Goal 14, on Life under Water.

We, for sure, need that action. Let us remember that every other breath we take comes from the Ocean. It provides us with nutrition for billions of people, with livelihoods, and with love for our Blue Planet.

I thank you.


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