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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Ocean and the Law of the Sea

I would like at the outset to thank the Secretariat, in particular the able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS), headed by the new Director, Mr. Václav Mikulka, for its comprehensive reports on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries. I would also like to acknowledge the professional manner in which the two coordinators, Ambassador Henrique Rodrigues Valle of Brazil and Ms. Holly R. Koehler of the United States, conducted the informal consultations on the draft resolutions before us, on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries. In fact, all the participants deserve credit for their good spirit and flexibility leading to an unusually prompt conclusion of the consultations this year.

The Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for all our deliberations on the oceans and the law of the sea. Iceland welcomes recent ratifications of the Convention by Moldova, Morocco and Lesotho, bringing the total number of States Parties to 155, and signals of further ratifications in the near future. By ratifying and implementing the Convention, one of the greatest achievements in the history of the United Nations, the international community sustains and promotes a number of its most cherished goals. Every effort must be made to utilize existing instruments to the fullest before other options, including possible new implementation agreements under the Convention, are seriously considered.

The three institutions established under the Law of the Sea Convention are functioning well. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is giving current consideration to a number of submissions that have been made regarding the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, and a number of coastal States, including Iceland, have advised of their intention to make submissions in the near future.

As the time limit for making submissions approaches, the workload of the Commission is anticipated to increase considerably due to an increasing number of submissions, placing additional demands on its members and on DOALOS. Iceland supports the decision of the seventeenth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention to continue to address, as a matter of priority, issues related to the workload of the Commission, including funding for its members attending the sessions of the Commission and the meetings of the subcommissions. We welcome, in particular, the endorsement of the General Assembly, in paragraph 46 of the draft oceans and the law of the sea resolution, of the request by the Meeting of States Parties to the Secretary-General to take timely measures, before the twenty-first session of the Commission in March, to strengthen the capacity of DOALOS, serving as the secretariat of the Commission, in order to ensure enhanced support and assistance to the Commission and the subcommissions. In this context, we note with concern the information provided by DOALOS regarding the current level of staffing as well as inadequate hardware and software available to it which are required to support the Commission in the fulfilment of its functions.

Furthermore, we encourage States to make additional contributions to two voluntary trust funds in this field, i.e. the voluntary trust fund for the purpose of facilitating the preparation of submissions to the Commission by developing States, and the voluntary trust fund for the purpose of defraying the cost of participation of the members of the Commission from developing States in the meetings of the Commission.

Marine genetic resources are receiving more and more attention by the international community and they were the focus topic of the eighth meeting of the Informal Consultative Process (UNICPOLOS) last June. The panel discussions of that meeting were very informative and States made good progress in developing consensual elements relating to this complex issue, although a final agreement was not reached.

In this light we note with satisfaction the consensual elements relating to marine genetic resources contained in paragraphs 132?136 of the draft oceans and the law of the sea resolution which are drawn from the eighth meeting of UNICPOLOS. These paragraphs, as well as the report of the UNICPOLOS meeting, will provide a useful basis for further consideration of this issue at the meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction next spring.

We remain to be convinced of the need for a new international legal regime for marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In our view, the Law of the Sea Convention provides a sufficient legal framework in this respect and offers at the same time a great amount of flexibility. Iceland is willing to engage in a constructive debate for the purpose of finding fair and equitable practical solutions regarding the exploitation of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction within the existing legal framework.

The UN Fish Stocks Agreement is of paramount importance, as it strengthens considerably the framework for conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). The provisions of the Agreement not only strengthen in many ways the relevant provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention but also represent important development of international law in this area.

The effectiveness of the Agreement depends on its wide ratification and implementation. The Review Conference held last year provided an important momentum and we welcome the recent ratifications of the Agreement by Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania, bringing the number of States Parties to 67. We look forward to the seventh round of informal consultations of States Parties to the Agreement, which has among its objectives to promote a wider participation in the Agreement, and note with satisfaction that many other States have informed of their intention to ratify it in the near future.

Iceland has emphasized the role of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the field of fisheries. As reflected in the draft sustainable fisheries resolution before us, the meeting of FAO´s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) held in Rome last March was very productive and set the ground for future work on many important issues. These include issues that the General Assembly has highlighted in recent years such as the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems from destructive fishing practices, and the combatting of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

With respect to the former issue, COFI decided, as requested in paragraph 89 of General Assembly resolution 61/105 on sustainable fisheries, to develop, through expert and technical consultations, technical guidelines for the management of deep-sea fisheries in the high seas. The guidelines will include standards and criteria for identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction and the impacts of fishing on such ecosystems. These standards and criteria will facilitate the adoption and implementation of conservation and management measures by States and RFMOs pursuant to paragraphs 83 and 86 of resolution 61/105. Iceland has made a financial contribution to this important work of the FAO, we note that the expert consultation has already taken place and encourage all relevant States to participate in the intergovernmental technical consultation which will be held in Rome in February.

The COFI meeting also took important decisions related to combatting IUU fishing. Firstly, it initiated a process to develop, through expert and technical consultations, a legally binding instrument on minimum standards for port State measures, as recommended in resolution 61/105. The expert consultation has already taken place and we encourage all relevant States to participate in the intergovernmental technical consultation which will be held in Rome in June. Secondly, the meeting requested the FAO to consider the possibility, subject to the availability of funds, of an expert consultation to develop criteria for assessing the performance of flag States, as well as to examine possible actions against vessels flying the flags of States not meeting such criteria. In our view, this work is particularly relevant in strengthening and developing the legal basis for meaningful and effective measures against vessels engaged in IUU fishing on the high seas, where the flag State has failed to fulfil its obligations and take action. We are, in cooperation with other interested States, considering supporting this important initiative, including through preparatory work and funding, and note in this regard with satisfaction paragraph 41 of the draft sustainable fisheries resolution.

There is growing concern over the adverse effects of global warming on the marine environment and marine biodiversity. Among other things, changing temperature and currents may affect the abundance of fish stocks in various ways and there are indications that the migrating patterns of some important fish stocks may be changing. In this context, we draw attention to paragraph 82 of the draft oceans and the law of the sea resolution which encourages States, individually or in collaboration with relevant international organizations and bodies, to enhance their scientific activity to better understand the effects of climate change on the marine environment and marine biodiversity and develop ways and means of adaptation. We furthermore draw attention to paragraph 83 of the draft resolution which calls upon States to enhance their efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, in accordance with the principles contained in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in order to reduce and tackle projected adverse effects of climate change on the marine environment and marine biodiversity.

The impacts of climate change are hardly as clearly detectable in any place of our planet as in the Arctic where huge quantities of sea ice and glaciers are already retreating. The sea ice in this area is retreating much more swiftly than scientists predicted and now there is even talk that the ice will disappear altogether. The retreat of ice and the warming of the seas will, together with advances in technology, offer new opportunities for navigation and exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic region. However, we must bear in mind that this region contains uncontaminated ecosystems with unique biological diversity, the conservation of which is vital. Care must be taken that the opening of new shipping routes and exploitation of natural resources will not endanger these sensitive ecosystems and to minimize detrimental effects on the marine environment.

Iceland places emphasis on good and close cooperation between States having an interest in the opening of shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean and the exploitation of natural resources in the region in the near future, based on rules of international law pertaining thereto, in particular the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.


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