Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Ecosystem Approaches and Oceans

Statement by

Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson

Director, Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs

Ministry for Foreign Affairs

at the

The Seventh Meeting of the Oceans and the Law of the Sea:

UN Open-ended Informal Consultations

Ecosystem Approaches and Oceans


At the outset, may I thank the Secretariat, in particular the highly able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, for the comprehensive report they have prepared for this meeting. 

I would like also to welcome Ms. Lorraine Ridgeway of Canada as Co-chair of the informal consultative process and thank her and her colleague, Ambassador Cristián Maquieira of Chile, for their commitment to our work. Finally, thanks are due to the previous Co-chair, Mr. Philip D. Burgess of Australia, for his years of devotion and service to the work of this forum.

As has been robustly underlined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the health of the world’s ecosystems is essential for human well being. It is now widely recognized that the Millennium Development Goals will not and can not be obtained unless we find a way of harvesting the world’s ecosystems in a sustainable way. For this to occur there is need to ensure that our policies are guided by the best science available and a healthy dose of precaution. An accelerated loss of marine biodiversity, due variously to pollution, the impacts of climate change, unregulated fishery and harmful fishing practices, are all warning signals that must be addressed by the relevant fora and through better co-operation among them.

Aside from producing a third of all the oxygen we breathe, marine ecosystems have always been a source of healthful food for the majority of people. For coastal communities they have been a main source of nutrition and a basis for survival.  Ninety five percent of those who base their livelihood on fisheries now live in the developing world. 

As was made clear in the 2001 Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem, the objective of including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management is to contribute to long term food security and human development, as well as to ensure the effective conservation and sustainable use of the ecosystem and its resources.

Marine ecosystems can not be expected to continue to support human life if the impact of human activities upon them causes severe loss of biodiversity. Unsustainable fisheries in many parts of the world are among the many forms of negative impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems. But other dangers are looming; including chemical pollution and possible impacts of climatic change.

Iceland remains of the view that discussions within the informal consultative process should be based on the foundation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and related agreements. The Convention must be fully implemented and its integrity preserved.

There is also need to bear in mind that this seventh meeting of the informal consultative process takes place in context with recent related meetings within the United Nations system. The meeting in February of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group, established by the General Assembly to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, provided an excellent overview of activities in this field and identified key problems. The eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Brazil in March of this year, also addressed this issue, basing its deliberations inter alia upon the work of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group. Here it is fitting to recall that the Jakarta Mandate of the CBD in 1995 pioneered the first programme of work on marine and coastal biodiversity, based on the ecosystem approach.

Iceland welcomes the outcomes of the Review Conference on the UN Fish Stocks Agreement which took place last month. The Conference reaffirmed the regional approach to high seas fisheries management. Since the effectiveness of the Agreement depends on its wide ratification and implementation, we were particularly encouraged by commitments by a number of non-Parties to become Parties to the Agreement in the near future.

Other, non-binding instruments, including the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, should be considered. The Code should be seen as a fundamental contribution to the development of an ecosystem approach to fisheries as it provides a framework of principles and standards for the conservation, management and development of the fisheries sector. Another FAO text, the Reykjavik Declaration, referred to earlier, lays a solid foundation for the inclusion of ecosystem considerations in fisheries management.

On a regional level, we have different organizations involved in the application and operationalization of the ecosystems approach. In our own part of the world, the North Atlantic, OSPAR and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) are active in this field, guided by their separate competences. Allow me also to observe that the proposed new Marine Strategy and Maritime Policy of the European Union, while not applicable to the European Economic Area as such, offer commendable examples of a regional approach to dealing with the threats to marine resources and marine ecosystems in a global perspective. The necessary resources need to be found to develop capacity in other parts of the world where effective regional structures for dealing with fisheries management are yet not in place.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for conducting responsible fisheries management rests with national Governments. In my own country, the Icelandic Fisheries Management Act of 1990 has proved to be a successful tool for the sustainable use of the marine resources in Icelandic waters, where ecosystem considerations are increasingly being taken into account. As work to further define the application of an ecosystem approach to Icelandic waters continues, gaps in knowledge and implementation are being addressed.

Today, the world’s marine ecosystems are being exposed to manifold dangers and risks. The time has no doubt come for discussing this challenge comprehensively and in a holistic manner in a forum like the informal consultative process. At the same time, let us not lose sight of the fact that we have at our disposal a variety of tools, political, institutional and legal, to deal with existing threats. Therefore, the issue we are called upon to deal with this week is not so much what new projects we can launch in this effort, but rather how best we can coordinate our combined human and other resources in the fulfilment of commitments we have already pledged to undertake.


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