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Statement: SPLOS 34th meeting

Statement by Mr. Birgir Hrafn Búason, Director,
Directorate for Legal and Executive Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
SPLOS 34th meeting, 12 June 2024, Agenda items 14 and 15
Reports of the SG under Article 319 and 
Commemoration of UNCLOS’ 30th anniversary

Mr President.

I would like to start by thanking the Secretary General for the informative reports that this agenda item refers to.

This year we celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the entry into force of UNCLOS, our constitution of the ocean, which sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

The Convention is a testament to multilateralism, which has stood the test of time, globally applied, and ever attracting more States Parties, moving us closer to universal participation.

Mr President. 

On that note, a year ago next Wednesday, we adopted the third implementing agreement under UNCLOS, 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, will provide important additions the regulatory framework of our ocean and provide us with necessary tools to achieve our common objectives.

We welcome the adoption of GA resolution 78/272 and the establishment of the Preparatory Commission tasked with facilitating the entry into force and the convening of the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (which we of course hope will be held sooner rather than later). In less than two weeks, the Preparatory Commission will hold its first session to discuss organizational matters, and we must ensure that the Commission receives the facilities and resources it needs to fulfil its mandate. When the BBNJ Agreement enters into force, we must be in a position to hit the ground running.

Mr President.

Earlier this week we heard the reports of all three bodies established under the Convention. The discussions and exchanges that followed reflect that even 30 years later, the work of these bodies and the practical functioning of the Convention is more relevant to the international community than ever. 

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea continues its important core function of promoting peace and stability in our ocean by peacefully settling disputes and maintaining the rule of law. A key characteristic of the Convention is the possibility to bring disputes to binding settlement. The functioning of international courts and tribunals, and the adherence to their decisions is key in ensuring a rules-based international legal order.

We welcome the important contributions the Tribunal has made in this regard, and especially the landmark advisory opinion given to the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law. 

The opinion highlights the nature of UNLCOS as a living instrument and the constant interplay between law and ever-increasing science. In our mind this is one of the core characteristics of the Law of the Sea.

Mr President.

As recently addressed in the ITLOS Advisory Opinion I previously referred to, UNCLOS is highly relevant to the challenges we face due to climate change. Climate change, the science tells us, is taking place and is changing the world as we know it. How drastic the changes will be, depends on how much climate action we take. Iceland strongly supports the guidance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is specifically referred to in the Advisory Opinion of ITLOS, and the goal of limiting temperature increase to 1,5°C. We support the phasing out of fossil fuels and ending fossil fuels subsidies.

This is an important backdrop for discussing the threats of sea-level rise. Addressing the threats brought by rising sea levels is the joint responsibility of all states. Iceland remains supportive of the International Law Commission’s work on this topic, which comes down to the very existence of States. Importantly, all activities to address the threat of sea-level rise must be carried out consistent with the legal framework of UNCLOS.

Mr President. 

Climate aspects are one of two major reasons for which Iceland, together with Norway, proposed that the topic of next week’s Informal Consultative Process meeting will be “The Ocean as a Source of Food”. The other major reason for our proposal is the extremely concerning fact that food insecurity is on the rise. The Ocean has potential to help us meet the two major challenges of food insecurity and climate change, as food from the Ocean is both nutritious and climate-friendly. At the same time, we must take necessary action to keep the
Ocean healthy and protect the marine environment in line with UNCLOS obligations. Iceland is looking forward to the meeting of the Informal Consultative Process on June 18th through 21st, where this will be discussed.

Mr President. 

Strengthening multilateral ocean governance, whether at the global or regional level, remains an ongoing task. 

States must cooperate on addressing 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 was a major achievement in this field. Negotiations continue in Geneva on outstanding disciplines on subsidies leading to overcapacity and overfishing, under the leadership of Iceland. We count on States to join the ongoing push and make every effort possible to conclude these negotiations by the end of July.

Likewise, we count on States to conclude negotiations on an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.

Mr President.

Iceland had the honour of participating in the very successful high-level action event in Costa Rica only a few days back. We return from the “Immersed in Change” full of inspiration for ocean action, and we see this well-attended event as an important milestone on the road towards the Third UN Ocean conference in Nice next year, co-hosted by Costa Rica and France. As previously, UNCLOS remains one of Iceland’s top priorities at the UN Ocean conference, which we are very much looking forward to. Iceland participated at the highest level in Lisbon, and is already preparing for active participation in Nice.

Mr President.

Before I surrender the microphone, I would like to thank our colleagues who have engaged this week in the discussions on the conditions of service of the members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Iceland has been actively engaged in this work for over a decade, and it seems that we are finally making progress. Of course, the solution which is now being discussed does not fully rectify the structural shortcomings of the Convention when it comes to the functioning of the CLCS, but hopefully this will be a positive first step in creating more stability in the working conditions of the Commission. I thank my colleagues for their open-mindedness and creativity, and we look forward to continuing our constructive engagement on the issue.
I thank you. 


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