Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson
Head of the Delegation of Iceland
Fifth Meeting of the United Nations
Open-ended Informal Consultative Process
on Oceans and the Law of the Sea
7 ? 11 June 2004
At the outset, I would like to commend the Secretariat, in particular the very able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, for their comprehensive report.
As the health and responsible stewardship of the oceans are of critical importance to Iceland, we welcome the growing attention given in recent years by the General Assembly to marine issues, including through this open-ended informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea.
The informal nature of this process is its most valuable asset, providing an opportunity for a free-flowing dialogue. I would like to thank the current two Co-Chairmen, Ambassador Felipe H. Paolillo and Mr. Philip D. Burgess, for their important contribution to our work.
My government has firmly been of the view that the informal consultative process, established with General Assembly resolution 54/33, should be based on the foundation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its implementing agreements. The inclusion of the words ?the law of the sea? in the title of the process underlines that in our deliberations we must respect this legal framework.
In our view, it is imperative that the Law of the Sea Convention be fully implemented and its integrity maintained. Issues that were settled at the Third Law of the Sea Conference, for example, should not be reopened. In this respect it needs to be born in mind that the conclusions of the Conference were regarded as a ?package deal?, involving compromises on the part of the participating states.
New global instruments in this field should not be introduced, without existing instruments having first been fully implemented. In exceptional cases, there may be gaps in a legal regime that need to be filled through the adoption of implementing agreements. The 1995 Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks is a case in point.
The area of focus for this fifth meeting of the informal consultative process (?New sustainable uses of the oceans, including the conservation and management of the biological diversity of the seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction?) is both complex and challenging.
Although article 1 of the Law of the Sea Convention defines the international seabed area as ?the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction?, Part XI of the Convention limits the scope of the legal regime of the Area to mineral resources. Therefore, living resources, including biological diversity, and other non-mineral resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, remain subject to the regime of the high seas. The fact that deep sea minerals and living organisms are often closely related or linked while subject to different legal regimes, may cause practical problems that need to be addressed in due course.
Oceans cover over 70% of the earth?s surface and there is no doubt that they are a source of far greater biological diversity than has so far been documented. The Conference of 188 Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year acknowledged this in reviewing its programme of work for the conservation of biological diversity in the marine environment and sustainable use of its resources. Special attention was given to areas beyond national jurisdiction such as seamounts, cold-water coral reefs and other underwater features that need to be protected from negative impacts of human activities.
The programme of work calls for various measures to protect biological diversity and to nourish the sustainable use of marine resources including the establishment of marine protected areas, consistent with international law and based on scientific information. It should be emphasized that the goals of protected areas must be clear and they must be managed accordingly.
The Icelandic government has recently adopted a comprehensive ocean strategy, prepared in consultation with industry and other interested parties. The strategy sets objectives and goals to ensure a healthy marine environment, biological diversity and sustainable utilization of living marine resources. As a follow-up to the new ocean strategy, the government has decided to establish a task force to look further into the issue of marine protected areas within its national jurisdiction.
Protection of specific areas is a practice used with varying results in many areas of the world. Iceland has been using area protection for decades and will continue to do so. In order to ensure that area protection is an effective conservation tool, we begin by identifying vulnerable areas and then assess what action is appropriate in each case. The government has recently decided to step up work in this regard. The initiative is expected to result in increased protection of specific areas, where this is considered the best option for conservation purposes. Furthermore, with respect to the high seas, Iceland is engaged in regional co-operation on these issues within bodies such as the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).
As indicated in the reports of the Secretary General and FAO, the marine ecosystem and biological diversity of the oceans are affected by the decline of many fish stocks. Therefore, it is urgent that we implement decision VII/5 of the Kuala Lumpur Conference, in particular as it relates to ways and means to conserve and manage biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Decision VII/5 reconfirms that the Law of the Sea Convention provides the legal framework for regulating activities in marine protected areas regarding living marine resources. The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity is requested to urgently collaborate with the Secretary General of the United Nations and relevant global and regional bodies in accordance with their mandates and rules of procedure, in order to support work of the General Assembly in identifying appropriate mechanisms for the future establishment and effective management of marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction. Furthermore, stakeholders are called upon to take the necessary short-, medium- and long-term measures to avoid and eliminate destructive practices.
Iceland would like to take this opportunity to reiterate three points regarding conservation and management of marine biological diversity and, in this context, protected areas on the high seas.
Firstly, the Law of the Sea Convention specifies, inter alia, the fora and level at which decisions on the conservation and utilization of living marine resources are to be taken. Efforts aimed at the conservation of biodiversity should take place within this globally accepted framework. Processes should not be launched, where there is less or even no international agreement in place.
Secondly, according to Decision VII/5, marine and coastal protected areas are but one of the essential tools and approaches in the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. As the wording recognizes, there are several approaches to obtaining the objectives we have set ourselves. Therefore, marine protected areas should not be thought of in terms of ?one-size-fits-all? solutions but rather as one of several implements in the toolbox.
Thirdly, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity urged stakeholders to take necessary measures regarding marine protected areas on the high seas. We are all concerned about threats to biodiversity. As we tackle such threats, we should do so on the basis of the precautionary and the ecosystem approaches. Furthermore, as was stressed by the Kuala Lumpur Conference, any work in this regard should be conducted consistent with international law and on a sound scientific basis. Given the different circumstances that apply in different areas around the world, we should be guided by the need to first identify vulnerable areas and assess, on a case by case basis, the action that is needed.