Statement to the General Assembly on Oceans and the Law of the Sea by Ambassador Bergdis Ellertsdottir
The two UN draft resolutions under discussions today, on Sustainable Fisheries and on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, relate to issues that are at the core of Iceland’s economy, history, identity – indeed our very existence. It’s therefore difficult to overstate the importance of this topic for Iceland, as the issue addressed in these resolutions touch upon central issues for Iceland´s foreign, economic and trade policies.
Iceland participated actively in the negotiations on the two draft resolutions and we are happy to be among the co-sponsors. We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to the two coordinators that ably guided our discussions, Mr. Andreas Kravik from Norway on the Sustainable Fisheries Resolution and Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma from Singapore on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea Resolution. As is practice, this work was guided by the principle of consensus, which may not always appear to be the fastest way forward but remains the only safe way to reach our destination. It is therefore a demanding job to co-ordinate these negotiations and both Mr. Kravik and Ms. Morris-Sharma demonstrated admirable tact, diplomacy and wisdom in steering us towards a final outcome.
We would particularly like to note that this year we started the important work of streamlining the resolution on Oceans and Law of the Sea. Given the importance of the topics addressed in this resolution, we welcome this effort towards making the resolution more readable, more concise and more relevant and we look forward to continuing our work in this regard.
Let me also use this opportunity to convey our appreciation to the Secretary-General for his report on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, and for the Secretariat in general and DOALOS in particular for its valuable work and contribution.
The mandate of the Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf continues to be of utmost importance and it remains essential that the Commission´s work is based on thorough deliberations, respect for its procedures and that its conclusions are founded on sound arguments. In this regard my delegation wishes to express our gratitude for the hard work and dedication of the members of the Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Two important developments related to the work of the Commission in this year’s resolutions are worth highlighting. First of all, the draft resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea invites the General Assembly to decide that members of the Commission have the option to join the Headquarters medical insurance scheme. The working conditions of the Commission have been under a discussion for a longtime, and it is our hope that this new option will be a positive contribution to that debate. Secondly, the draft resolution contains revised Terms of Reference of the Trust Fund for the purpose of facilitating the preparation of submissions to the Commission. The changes to the Term of Reference will hopefully enable developing States, in particular the least developed countries and small islands developing States, to make better use of the Trust Fund during deliberations of their submissions to the Commission. We welcome both of these developments, as each in their own way are important contributions for the further strengthening of Commission’s work.
The General Assembly has consistently throughout the years highlighted the universal and unified character of the Law of the Sea Convention, its strategic importance and its contribution to peace, security and friendly relations among all nations. It is worth highlighting that this strong legal framework already regulates all activities in the oceans. It is complemented by the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement and its provisions on high seas fisheries and regulatory framework for the work of regional fisheries management organizations.
We have now embarked on a new complementing process, to develop an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Iceland welcomes the formal start of these negotiations and we will continue to actively and constructively participate in them. We would in particular highlight that this process and its result must not undermine but rather build on existing legal instruments and frameworks, particularly the Convention and the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement. The BBNJ negotiations are not the forum to reopen issues that are already settled. My delegation would also like to stress that while the issues under discussions are complex and that views differ on what is the appropriate legal framework to address them, it is imperative that this works continues to be guided by consensus as that is the only way we can achieve universal application of this instrument.
Without a clean, healthy, productive ocean, Agenda 2030 will be almost impossible to attain. Sustainable management of natural resources is fundamental to our success. Seas and oceans have great potential for innovation and growth in a number of sectors, to contribute to eradicating poverty, as well as sustained economic growth.
Climate change and its impact is among the most pressing concerns of our times. Addressing climate change is a prerequisite to healthy and sustainable oceans. Iceland has already witnessed the consequences of climate change, with rising ocean temperatures having already influenced migration patterns of fish stocks. Climate change has therefore had a direct impact on our policies and our interactions with other States.
In few places are the impacts of climate change more evident than in the Arctic, with the sea-ice in the Arctic continuing to decrease. Earlier this year, Iceland along with 9 other parties signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. This Agreement is an example of States adopting the Precautionary Approach in practice, as the Parties to the Agreement have committed themselves to refraining from any commercial fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean until scientific basis, proper management measures and procedures are in place. With this commitment, the Parties wish to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks in an area where fishing has so far been impossible, but which is undertaking rapid changes.
Ocean Science must take center stage in the debate on oceans and sustainable development. Iceland would therefore like to welcome the General Assembly’s decision last year to proclaim the next decade the United Nations Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development. We also welcome the proposal in this year’s draft Resolution to focus the discussions in next year’s meeting of the Informal Consultative Process on the theme of “Ocean Science and the United Nations Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development.” We find it particularly apt that the ICP will devote its 20th sessions to this important and cross-cutting theme that relates to all aspects of our work.
My delegation looks forward to participating in the next year’s ICP, as well as all the other important meetings, events and processes relating to Oceans and the Law of the Sea that are scheduled for next year.
Thank you, Mr. President
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