Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its entry into force, in New York on 17 June:
I am very pleased to join you for the opening of the twenty-ninth Meeting of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It also gives me great pleasure to congratulate Ambassador Michael Imran Kanu on his election as President of this Meeting.
Having recently returned from the South Pacific, where I learned first-hand the plight of the oceans, I feel a sense of heightened urgency as we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Over the past quarter century, the Convention, as the constitution for our oceans, has achieved nearly universal acceptance. It has given us a comprehensive framework for the peaceful, cooperative and sustainable use of seas, oceans and their resources. And it has provided a foundation for the progressive development of the law of the sea.
A recent example is the decision of the General Assembly in 2015 to develop an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Multilateral cooperation on marine issues has also been furthered by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf — the three bodies established by the Convention.
A well-defined and extensive body of international law establishing the rights and duties of States in relation to seas and oceans is indeed essential. We must ensure that activities are sustainable, relationships among stakeholders are adequately regulated, needs and challenges are addressed, and peace and security is maintained.
Today, the oceans are under unprecedented pressure. Half of all living coral has been lost in the past 150 years. In the past four decades, plastic pollution in the sea has increased 10-fold. A third of fish stocks are now overexploited. De-oxygenated dead zones are growing rapidly in extent and number. Ocean acidification, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change are taking a massive toll.
The consequences of these pressures are already being felt by low-lying coastal States, small island developing States and coastal communities. I saw this on my recent visit to Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. But, declining ocean health ultimately affects us all. So, while I am encouraged by increasing recognition of the plight of the oceans, much more action is required.
Thankfully, we have a battle plan. Our guide is the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially Goal 14 with its 10 targets, from addressing marine pollution and acidification, to ending overfishing and protecting ecosystems. Our legal framework is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. And at the 2017 Ocean Conference, we registered more than 1,300 commitments and partnerships.
But, none of these initiatives and declarations are worth anything unless we accept that we face a global emergency. That is why we need the full implementation of the legal regime for the oceans as set out by the Convention and other relevant international instruments. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits us to this aim. It specifically calls for enhancement of the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the Convention. This is one of the key means to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other ocean-related targets.
The 2030 Agenda also embraces the pledge to leave no one behind. That includes people all around the world who depend on the oceans for food security, tourism, transportation, cultural values and heritage, and for the regulation of the climate. We must achieve gender equality and decent working conditions in ocean-related industries. We must also ensure the protection of vulnerable individuals and increase the participation of women in decision-making and resource management. The right to development and the fight against poverty are critically linked for people who live by the sea and depend on its resources.
Acknowledging the human dimension of the oceans is critical. In this regard, I am pleased that the theme of this year’s recent World Oceans Day focused on “Gender and the Ocean”. I hope more such initiatives will follow.
Conflicting demands from industry, fishing, shipping, mining and tourism are creating unsustainable levels of stress on marine and coastal ecosystems. We must act across an array of sectors to address these challenges. The “Call for Action” adopted at the United
Nations Oceans Conference in 2017 helps point the way. As we look ahead to the next such gathering, in Lisbon in 2020, we must do our utmost to protect and preserve this essential resource for sustainable development.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a fundamental tool. Many of the current challenges facing our oceans can be addressed through the effective and comprehensive implementation of the provisions of the Convention. So, as we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of this important instrument, I encourage all States that have not yet done so to ratify or accede to it.
I also appeal to all States parties to approach the task of the Convention’s full implementation with renewed commitment and vigour. Let us be the generation that reverses the cycle of continuous decline in our oceans and ensures that conservation and sustainable use, for the benefit of current and future generations, takes place. I wish you a productive meeting. Thank you.