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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea

New York, 2 June

United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative
Process on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea

Statement of Iceland

Allow me to congratulate you both, Ambassador Felipe H. Paolillo and Mr. Philip Burgess, on your assumption of the chairmanship

I would also like to thank the Secretariat for the report on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, which as in previous years provides a good review of current developments in this field.

Iceland is satisfied with the work of the informal consultative process in its three year initial period and would like to pay tribute the excellent work of the two Co-Chairmen, Ambassador Neroni Slade and Mr. Alan Simcock.

Iceland welcomes the attention that the United Nations has paid to ocean issues in recent years. Our economy is overwhelmingly dependant on harvesting living marine resources. Marine products constitute two-thirds of Iceland's revenue from exported goods and yield over 40% of all foreign currency earnings. The sustainability of fisheries is therefore essential for the livelihood of Icelanders.

In view of the importance we attach to this issue, Iceland finds it highly appropriate that the first session of the "new" United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Ocean Affairs and the law of the sea pay special attention to protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems as well as the safety of navigation.

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When the informal process was established with General Assembly resolution 54/33, Iceland emphasized that the process should be based on the foundation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for all activities pertaining to the oceans.

Furthermore, we stressed that General Assembly resolution 57/141 which renewed the mandate of this forum should call for the informal process to prepare the annual debate of the General Assembly on oceans and the law of the sea and to improve coordination and cooperation in this field. We are of the view that its informal nature is its most valuable asset as it provides an opportunity for a free flowing dialogue.

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The Government of Iceland decided recently to develop an integrated policy for for ocean issues. This policy will be developed jointly by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Fisheries and will be presented to the cabinet for approval this fall.

Guided by the principle of sustainable development, the Government of Iceland has developed a long-term cross-sectoral strategy aimed at securing sustainable development. This calls for the government to utilize its resources, based on solid research and sound scientific advice.

The Rio Conference in 1992 set the stage for countries to document their biodiversity as a first step towards sustainable utilization. Iceland will answer this commitment by making readily accessible, via modern electronic media, the wealth of information it produces about the marine environment. By so doing we hope to enhance the transparency of natural resource utilization and enable all citizens to take part, on an equal footing, in informed debate about our common resources.

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Since the last session the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPoI) has been adopted. It provides and important policy direction on oceans issues including the recognition of the ecosystem approach with reference to the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem, emphasis on the removal of fisheries subsidies, the recognition of the important role of international financial institutions in assisting developing countries in building their own sustainable fisheries, a call for a regular process to assess the state of the marine environment and finally the decision to address pollution in a holistic and systematic manner.

Iceland has maintained that the implementation of the Global Program of Action to protect the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities adopted in Washington 1995, has despite some progress, fallen short of expectations. We have, in previous meetings of this process, called for a new and improved process to assess marine pollution. Pollution of the seas threatens the sustainable use of living marine resources and marine biodiversity. For many coastal developing countries, sustainable use of living marine resources is essential for economic and social development and thus a key to alleviating poverty.

Iceland will be making a more detailed statement on next steps in implementing General Assembly Resolution 57/141 as it relates to the establishment a regular process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment. Regular assessment of this kind will improve our knowledge of the state of the marine environment and allow us to better manage the oceans by providing policy related guidance.

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The 11th meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development that concluded its work earlier this month, took various decision on how best to organize its work in the years to come. One of the issues that the Commission considered was how to utilize best practices in its work to provide better focus. Iceland welcomes the decision to allow for regional participation throughout the work process of the Commission. We value the contribution that smaller and vigilant regional bodies can make in furthering the work of the Commission. One such regional body is the Arctic Council that pays considerable attention to the issue of oceans. The Council's working group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), has now been entrusted with the task of developing a strategic plan for the protection of the Arctic marine environment, lead by two member countries of the Council, Iceland and Canada. This work will hopefully mark an important contribution to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

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The Government of Iceland has a longstanding and profound commitment to the protection of the marine environment and the sustainable use of the living marine resources. This is a commitment deeply rooted in the history of Iceland's relationship with the ocean. We have long argued that discussion on ocean issues in the General Assembly should concentrate on issues of global implications that require global cooperation. The global assessment process fits that description. It strengthens international action to protect the oceans from impacts of land-based pollution and other human induced threats. Action in this area has been hampered by fragmented, incoherent and incomparable information, in particular on socio-economic consequences of the degradation of the marine environment. It is now time, Mr. Co-Chairman, that we do our best to remove that obstacle.

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