Oceans and the Law of Sea
General Assembly, 8 December 2020
Statement by H.E. Mr. Jörundur Valtýsson
Permanent Representative of Iceland
„The ocean, the blue ocean, captures the mind,
what lies beyond the far horizon?”
These lines from a classic Icelandic poem come to mind when looking back at the year 2020. The ocean affairs have always captured our minds, but at the beginning of this year no one could foresee the COVID-19 pandemic lurking on the horizon – let alone the dramatic effects it has had on our way of living, working and thinking.
The pandemic has also taken its toll on international cooperation. The year that was expected to be a grand year of international ocean events, commitments, conferences and treaty-making, ended up as a year of status quo for ocean affairs. Almost all international events were postponed or cancelled and negotiations here at the UN on the resolutions on oceans and law of the sea and on fisheries were limited to technical updates. Iceland supported this pragmatic approach and is a co-sponsor to both resolutions.
The COVID-19 situation, however, has also brought about some positive points. It has taught us how to adapt and improved our navigation skills in the virtual world. We have seen that it is possible to keep international relations going during travel restrictions and lockdowns - albeit in a different form.
Our words of immense gratitude go to the people who have kept our work on ocean affairs going; the on-line facilitators of the omnibus and fisheries resolutions, Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma from Singapore and Mr. Andreas Kravik of Norway respectively; the president of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, Ambassador Rena Lee of Singapore, and her facilitators and staff; the Acting Director of DOALOS, Mr. Vladimir Jares and his able staff - as well as all the other hardworking people who have kept the UN boat afloat under these exceptional circumstances.
The pandemic has also taught us a valuable lesson. Cooperation, science and resilience will get us through even the most serious difficulties. That is a lesson we should treasure.
One thing has not changed during this extraordinary year. The ocean is still the same, Oceans and Law of the Sea is important as ever and the need for international cooperation in this field has never been more urgent.
The Oceans and Law of the Sea is of utmost importance to Iceland as fisheries have always been a fundamental pillar in the Icelandic economy. We have a long-standing policy of science-based environmental protection and sustainable use of living marine resources, which can only be maintained in harmony with other nations.
We strive to be active and constructive participants in international cooperation on Ocean and Law of the Sea, while also emphasising the regional control and framework for negotiating stocks and environmental protection of species.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is a cornerstone in the international system of Oceans and Law of the Sea and Iceland is honoured to have the Icelandic judge, Mr. Tómas Heiðar, running for re-election for a seat on the Tribunal in elections taking place in 2023.
The new agreement within the remit of the World Trade Organisation, prohibiting fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing, will be a welcome step on our long way to worldwide sustainable fisheries. Although we were not able to meet the mandate of SDG 14.6 and conclude this Agreement by 2020, we look forward to its conclusion in the near future.
There are mounting challenges in the field of Oceans and Law of the Sea. According to the World Meteorological Organization, last decade was the warmest on record and climate change is melting the polar ice, elevating sea levels, and affecting the marine ecosystem. The UN Secretary-General calls this situation a climate emergency and, indeed, these changes are clearly felt in Iceland where we lose 4 billion tons of our glaciers every year.
Iceland is willing to do its share to meet these challenges and has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. We are in the process of stepping up these commitments even further, as indicated in the updated Icelandic Climate Action Plan of 2020.
During our current chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Iceland has prioritized Arctic marine issues with emphasis on plastic pollution and blue bio economy, as well as climate and green energy solutions. The complex challenges of the oceans are best addressed through science and we welcome the Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development, which will begin in 2021.
Although international cooperation on Oceans and Law of the Sea has been less than expected this year, we are grateful for the work that could still be executed. We are also pleased that solutions were found and designed to facilitate future work, such as the possibility of virtual meetings for the Committee on the Limits on the Continental Shelf – in order for the committee to continue its important work.
Beyond the horizon we hope to find a promising new year packed with all the ocean commitments and events, which could not be held this year. Ocean affairs continue to capture our minds and Iceland looks forward to continued and reinforced international cooperation on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.
I thank you.