Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Need to limit scope of GMA

Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson
of Iceland



8 ? 10 June 2004

Since this is the first time United Nations member states convene to discuss a draft outline for the Global Marine Assessment (GMA), let me thank the Panel of Experts and its Chairman, Mr. Pugh, for the report they have presented to us (document A/AC.271/WP.1). Thanks are also due to the capable staff of DOALOS, as well as the two consultants, Professor Robert Duce and Dr. Michael Huber, for their effort in coordinating and condensing the different views expressed into a coherent Expert Panel report.

We have completed an important phase of our work. Guided in part by the technical consultations that took place in Reykjavík in 2001 and Bremen in 2002, the experts have consulted widely among government and academic specialists, international bodies and non-governmental organizations. They have given us their best estimate of what a GMA system could look like. We are now embarking on a new phase, a political rather than a technical phase, where governments will be assessing the extent to which the GMA meets their requirements.

My government has entertained high hopes for the GMA, provided it was done in the right way. The GMA has the potential to contribute substantially to sustainable development, providing states of the world with the means to monitor and assess on a regular and orderly basis the state of the marine environment. For these hopes to be realized, we need to ensure that the GMA is set up in a way that is practical and not too encompassing for the process to be useful.

In Iceland?s view, the objective of the GMA should be to improve our knowledge on trends in marine pollution and physical degradation in the marine environment and provide guidance on priority issues to mitigate those impacts. In effect, we regard the GMA as a suitable forum for implementing article 200 of UNCLOS, as recognized in resolution 57/141. For this reason, my government has expressed concerns, among other things, about the expanded scope of the draft we have before us, and the way it takes the focus away from priority issues we should have in our sights.

The main problem - the fly in the ointment, if you will - is the inclusion in the report of an assessment of the state of living marine resources.

My government recognizes the growing interest in applying the ecosystem approach to an assessment of the state of the marine environment. Indeed, we apply precisely such an approach ourselves. In designing the GMA we should be cognizant of the ecosystem approach, requiring that we take account of all dimensions of marine ecosystems, including the physical and chemical environment, biota and socio-economic aspects. But it is one thing for the GMA to recognize such an approach. It is quite another thing to expect the GMA to be charged with all the different tasks that such an approach entails. In other words, the GMA itself neednot take custody of the ecosystem approach in the international arena.

The GMA should bring added value to our joint efforts at safeguarding our ocean environment. The decision to establish the regular process was built on the widely shared acknowledgement that the marine environment is particularly vulnerable to physical degradation and pollution. Therefore, physical degradation and pollution should remain our priority. Expanding the scope of the GMA beyond those areas, would, in our view, incur two major disadvantages: it would deflect attention and much needed resources from priority challenges within the GMA and it would risk duplicating in a wasteful manner work being done within other competent institutions.

Therefore, as much as my government supports the GMA for the purpose of addressing the impact of marine pollution and physical degradation on marine ecosystems, we have strong reservations about the need to include living marine resources in the GMA.

Defining boundaries and setting priorities for the GMA is not a way of circumventing the ecosystem approach. On the contrary, it is the most effective way of ensuring that we contribute meaningfully, through the GMA, to the implementation of such an approach. Other players also have a contribution to make. At the global level, the FAO, for example, is responsible for living marine resources, building as appropriate on the contribution of the relevant regional and national actors. Should we wish to discuss living marine resources, let us do so within the FAO.

Iceland has a strong wish to see the GMA succeed. For a successful GMA we need focus, first of all. Failing that, we fear that we will have neither the political commitment nor the resources to get the project off the ground. Therefore, the question of scope is one we should address before we discuss other fundamental issues, be they a start-up phase, institutions, finance or something else.

In conclusion, I am inclined to agree with the Co-Chair?s observation at the outset, that more time is needed in preparation for the GMA. It is of the utmost importance that we get the GMA right from the start, if we are to achieve our goal of safeguarding the health of the oceans, as we all set out to do.


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