Policy Statement: Oceans and Law of the Sea Resolution

  • September 19, 2011

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This year's annual Oceans and Law of the Sea resolution, following last year's resolution 65/37 (PDF), offers an important and timely opportunity for Member States to take action to reshape the future of oceans governance. The positive outcomes from last year's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-10) and this year's Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group on marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ) have provided the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the tools to carry these and other issues forward. CBD CoP-10 resulted in several important agreed targets and procedures to protect marine biodiversity.

While some of these outcomes were reflected in the 2010 Oceans resolution, this year there is time to reflect the outcomes more comprehensively. The 2011 BBNJ meeting reached historic agreement on a way forward to protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and the Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP-12) 2011 discussed some useful and innovative ideas and suggestions for ocean conservation.

Oceans are critical to the health of our planet and essential for human survival. They provide a substantial amount of the world's nutrient cycling, support most of the world's biological diversity and supply humans with an important food source. More than half the species on Earth live in the sea, and hundreds of millions of people depend directly or indirectly on fish for their sustenance or livelihoods. However, the oceans are changing rapidly due to existing stressors such as overfishing, destructive fishing and pollution, and new stressors including climate change and ocean acidification.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 85% of global fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Scientists have found that 90% of the large marine predators have vanished due to unsustainable fishing. Over half of the global coral reefs are threatened (PDF), and many may be destroyed by 2040 due to the effects of rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.

To address the effects of these increasing stressors on the marine environment, the global community must improve strategic management and conservation of the ocean and its living resources. Effective management of the ocean is hampered by multiple factors, including institutional fragmentation, lack of political will, lack of capacity by developing States, weak regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), and lack of enforcement. However, business as usual is no longer acceptable.

The resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea is a comprehensive and strategically important omnibus resolution. While many fisheries matters are addressed in more detail in the resolution on Sustainable Fisheries, the “Oceans resolution” has a strategic role in addressing all human activities under UNCLOS. As a consequence, the Oceans resolution plays a critical role in safeguarding the future of the marine environment.

In particular, this year's Oceans resolution would benefit from:

  • Ocean freighterIncorporating the recommendations of the May 2011 BBNJ meeting including transformation of its mandate and establishment of the two processes agreed to;
  • Including relevant elements of the targets agreed at CBD COP-10 in Nagoya, particularly those regarding overfishing and marine protected areas (MPAs), as well as the procedures agreed, such as identification of ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs) and next steps;
  • Broadening the reference to environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to include strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) and to ensure that SEAs are included in the renewed BB NJ mandate. Development of the CBD guidelines for the consideration of biodiversity in EIAs and SEAs in marine and coastal areas should also be endorsed;
  • Recognizing the constructive discussions at ICP-12 and acknowledging proposed ways forward offered by Member States to address the threats facing the ocean as a means to achieve sustainable development, including in particular over-fishing, and addressing issues such as subsidies, marine reserves and protected areas in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and the need for a legal regime under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and protection of biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction;
  • Laying the groundwork for essential consideration of ocean issues in the upcoming Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 in a dedicated section in the resolution.

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Topics: Oceans, Environment