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Statement at the General Assembly 76th session on Agenda item 78, Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Statement by Permanent Representative Jörundur Valtýsson

General Assembly 76th session, 7 December 2021

Agenda item 78, Oceans and the Law of the Sea




Mr. President,


„Life is bacalao.“


So spoke Salka Valka, the strong female lead of a cherished novel by the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. Salka Valka is a grand novel, which touches upon rapid developments of Icelandic society in the 20th century. It is about love and other demons and so much else. But one thing is there throughout the book - and that is fish.


The same can be said about Icelandic society during the 20th century and through the ages. In the small fishing towns and villages of the coastline around our island - cold, wet and dark in the winter; somewhat less cold and bright throughout the night in summer - life was indeed about fish.


While the Icelandic economy today revolves around more than just fish and livestock, sustainable seafood still sustains life on our island, both through export and as the nutrient-rich, climate-friendly superfood it is. This year, at the UN Food Systems Summit, Iceland placed great emphasis on the role of blue and aquatic foods, and, at the moment, we are, along with others, in the process of establishing a Blue and Aquatic Foods Coalition.


Mr. President,


While meetings have been held and some progress made, 2021 has still been a difficult year. The pandemic still marched on despite our hopes for a different year from 2020. Indeed, we became better at managing online meetings and the UN opened up again to an extent, but we were not able to meet in person for more complex negotiations with people coming from all over the world to participate. This applies to the draft resolutions under discussion today, on Sustainable Fisheries and on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.


I take this opportunity to warmly thank the two co-ordinators who ably guided our discussions, Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma from Singapore on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea Resolution, and Mr. Andreas Kravik from Norway on the Sustainable Fisheries Resolution. While updates to the resolutions were mostly technical, the devil is in the detail, and, once again, our co-ordinators proved why they were selected for these positions.


Our thanks go as well to the president of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, Ambassador Rena Lee of Singapore, and her facilitators and staff; the Director of DOALOS, Mr. Vladimir Jares and his capable staff - as well as all the other hardworking people who have kept the UN going throughout an extended challenging period.


Iceland remains optimistic that in-person resolution negotiations will take place in the autumn of 2022 and that other important ocean and law of the sea negotiations, meetings and conferences will take place during the year. This year, we have actively participated as we have in previous years - and will continue to do so.


In terms of in-person meetings, there is reason to celebrate that the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf was finally able to meet here in New York. This fall also saw the 25th Anniversary of ITLOS, which was celebrated in Hamburg. The Tribunal has greatly contributed to peace through its role in dispute settlement within the law of the sea. Iceland is proud to support Judge Tomas Heidar, incumbent Vice President of the Court, for re-election for a seat on the Tribunal in elections taking place in 2023.


Mr. President,


Among important meetings ahead of us, is the eventual WTO Ministerial, which has just been postponed until next year. Iceland has long advocated the importance of reaching agreement on prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies, which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing. The mandate of SDG 14.6 was to conclude the agreement by 2020. As negotiations continue in Geneva, we remain hopeful that states will at last get past the finish line, under the able leadership of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.


Another important meeting ahead is the long awaited fourth session of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference. We look forward to actively engaging in these important negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. In this context we would like to highlight that this process and its result must build on, and not undermine, existing legal instruments and frameworks, particularly the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement. Furthermore, it is imperative that negotiations continue to be guided by consensus, as that is the way towards achieving universal application of this instrument.


Mr. President,


Life will not be bacalao anymore unless we manage to turn the tide on climate change and carbon emissions. The other side of that coin is, among other things, ocean acidification - a phenomenon which is more badly felt in cold Arctic waters than elsewhere and can result in major damage to life in the ocean. Also, sea level rise disproportionately affects many small island states, but we would emphasize that it is a matter of concern for all UN Member States and a global challenge, which we must work collectively to respond to.


Iceland welcomes ocean references in the Glasgow Climate Pact of COP26, which are a significant step towards integrating ocean aspects across international climate policy and frameworks. On the domestic front, the Icelandic government has just renewed its mandate and sets out a new, ambitious goal of being the first in the world to become not only carbon neutral, but independent of fossil fuels latest by 2040. In the field of development co-operation, the emphasis on climate change is to be greatly increased.


There are, of course, other environmental threats to the ocean than climate change, which must be tackled simultaneously. Iceland chaired the Arctic Council until recently and prioritized Arctic marine issues with an emphasis on plastic pollution and the blue bio-economy, as well as climate and green energy solutions. The Arctic Council is an example of successful regional co-operation, where scientific co-operation plays a key role.


Science is, indeed, the best friend of successful ocean management, conservation and sustainable use. We therefore welcome the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which began this year. The Decade is co-ordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Iceland has just been elected to the Executive Board of UNESCO and looks forward to continue working within the organization on ocean issues and sustainable development.


I thank you.


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