6 December 2017: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted two resolutions that aim to advance implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and support the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks and marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). Member States also discussed an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS, and other documents related to the law of the sea.
A Resolution titled, ‘Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments (A/72/L.12),’ focuses on sustainable fisheries and addresses issues related to tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and fishing overcapacity and improving regional and sub-regional cooperation to achieve sustainable development. In the Resolution, the UNGA recognizes the role of fisheries as a source of food security, employment, economic well-being and trade for people around the world and welcomes the entry into force of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing. The Resolution also, inter alia, calls on Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (life below water), and designates 5 June as the ‘International Day for the Fight against IUU fishing.’
The UNGA also adopted a Resolution titled, ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea (A/72/L.18),’ which welcomes progress by the International Seabed Authority on draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in ABNJ and makes recommendations on marine biodiversity, marine science, the global process for reporting on the state of the marine environment, maritime safety, the continental shelf, capacity building and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Regarding this Resolution, South Africa said an appropriate regulatory regime should be established within the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and should provide security of tenure for mineral resources while ensuring protection of the marine environment.
The UNGA held a recorded vote for both Resolutions. On the Resolution on sustainable fisheries, 126 Member States voted in favor and one against (the US), with three abstentions (El Salvador, Turkey and Venezuela). The US objected to the text’s reference to the World Trade Organization (WTO), but supported the rest of the Resolution. On the omnibus text on the oceans and law of the sea, 128 Member States voted in favor and one against (Turkey), with three abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador and Venezuela). Turkey opposed the text’s reference to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Turkey is not a party.
The UNGA also discussed a draft of an ‘International legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (A/72/L.7),’ but delayed a decision until a review of the text’s programme budget implications. According to the UN, the draft has 133 co-sponsors and many delegations called for the launch of official negotiations on such an instrument. If adopted, the Resolution would call for the UNGA to: convene the first session of a conference in 2018 to develop an internationally binding instrument; convene additional meetings in 2019 and 2020; and request the UN Secretary-General to nominate a president of the conference. The conference is expected to address marine genetic resources, area-based management tools, including marine protected areas (MPAs), environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and capacity building, and transfer of marine technology.
During the UNGA’s discussion on the proposed legally binding instrument, many delegates welcomed the step to convene such a conference. Mauritius observed that the UN’s current approach to protecting and conserving biodiversity in ABNJ is fragmented and insufficient. He called for the proposed instrument to ensure that the designation of area-based management tools, including MPAs, are carried out in full consultation with coastal States and respect for international law. Bangladesh, for the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), underscored the importance of the Voluntary Trust Fund in facilitating LDCs’ participation. Member States highlighted a number of ocean challenges, including climate change and its impacts, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification, and international security. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), on behalf of Pacific small island developing States (PSIDS), called for the appointment of a UN climate and security expert.
The UNGA further discussed: a report of the Secretary‑General titled, ‘Oceans and the law of the sea’ (A/72/70) and its addendum (A/72/70/Add.1); two reports of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (A/72/89 and A/72/494); and a report on the work of the UN Open‑ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its eighteenth meeting (A/72/95).
Also on oceans, the UN designated 2021-2030 as the ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ to enhance international cooperation on research and scientific programmes to better manage ocean and coastal zone resources and reduce maritime risks. The Decade aims to accelerate progress on SDG 14 and to strengthen and diversify financial resources, especially for small island developing States (SIDS) and LDCs. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will lead the campaign. [UN Meetings Coverage] [UN Press Release on Ocean Decade] [UNESCO Press Release] [A/72/70] [A/72/70/Add.1] [A/72/89] [A/72/494] [A/72/95]