Abdulla Shahid (President of the General Assembly) on the informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly to address the 40th commemoration of UNLCOS, 76th session



Address to the informal plenary of the 40and Commemoration of UNLCOS

April 29, 2022

Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,

I am delighted to welcome you all to the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Recognized as the “Constitution of the Sea”, UNCLOS is perhaps one of the most successful outcomes of rules-based multilateralism – culminating in a legally binding document for our ocean.

Today, UNCLOS continues to play a fundamental role in the development of international law and in the promotion of peace, security, cooperation, friendly relations among all nations and the sustainable development of oceans and seas.

As we commemorate this important day, we must take the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of UNCLOS, its universal and unified character, and take stock of our progress in its implementation.

Since its inception, UNCLOS has laid the foundation for ocean governance, with the first single set of rules for our oceans and seas.

As the General Assembly has recognized in several resolutions, the Convention establishes the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

This has helped boost governance on all aspects related to the ocean, including maritime zones, navigation and passage rights, marine environmental protection, marine scientific research and dispute resolution.

Since its adoption, two additional instruments have been concluded under the Convention: the 1994 Agreement on the Implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

A third treaty under UNCLOS, on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, or BBNJ, is currently being negotiated at the Intergovernmental Conference convened under the auspices of the United Nations, as so decided by the General Assembly at its 72nd session.

Similarly, the Convention provided the framework for the creation of three new bodies: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). , promote stronger, peaceful and rules-based use of the ocean.

I am proud to note that high-level representatives from each of these bodies will deliver keynote addresses today, along with other distinguished guests, to share their expertise and insights.

My friends,

Each of these successes is a source of encouragement and I would like to thank each and every one of you, Member States, for supporting the processes that made UNCLOS a success.

That said, human activities over the past 40 years continue to create challenges on social, economic and environmental dimensions, which are also at the heart of the Convention.

As recognized by the second World Ocean Assessment, many pressures from human activities continue to degrade the ocean, including those associated with climate change; unsustainable fishing, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; air pollution causing acidification; excessive intakes of hazardous substances, including plastics, microplastics and nanoplastics; anthropogenic noise; and poorly managed coastal development, among others.

Countless species are also on the brink of extinction and entire homelands are facing the existential threat of rising sea levels.

The ocean covers over 70% of our planet’s surface and accounts for most of the oxygen we breathe. The ocean provides food, jobs and resources for billions of people.

Sometimes we seem oblivious to the harm we are doing to it – regardless of the fact that our existence on this planet relies entirely on us having a healthy ocean ecosystem.

Yet the renewed attention to ocean health at the UN, with the General Assembly at its center, and in other international platforms gives us hope.

The recent endorsement by Member States of the historic resolution of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi to end plastic pollution and conclude a legally binding international agreement by 2024 that will address the life cycle plastic, including its production, design and disposal, offers immense hope for a future of plastic-free oceans.

Dear friends,

The legacy of the ocean goes beyond its economic value. It’s a lifesaver. It’s history and culture. And it is an identity.

Alongside the provisions of UNCLOS, we can build on recent developments to accelerate action to protect this precious natural resource.

I believe I speak for many here today when I say that the success of UNCLOS would not have been possible without the collective commitments and support of its members. I congratulate each of you on this important step.

I would also like to salute the work and contribution of pioneers, such as Ambassador Tommy Koh, who led the early negotiations that brought UNCLOS to life.

Likewise, I recognize the role of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of ​​the Office of Legal Affairs, which continues to oversee our common achievements on this front.

I would also like to especially thank the delegations of Singapore, Denmark, Grenada, Kenya and Portugal for their letter of December 17, 2021 asking me to organize today’s commemorative event.

As separate preparations are underway for the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, I call on all Member States to renew their unwavering commitment, support and advocacy to protect and promote our ocean.

Let’s continue to work together for another 40 years of success; reaffirm our commitment to the principles and values ​​of multilateralism and strengthen our commitments to protect the oceans and seas.

I thank you.


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