UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA
World Oceans Day, 8 June 2012
22nd Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Statement by H.E. Ambassador Philippa King, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations
On World Oceans Day it is timely for us to pause and reflect on our ‘Constitution for the Oceans’ – the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention – as we approach the thirtieth anniversary of its opening for signature at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1982.
The Convention has, in the intervening years, assumed the contours of universality. The achievements it embodies are immense, arising from one of the most successful law-making processes at the United Nations. In November 1967 Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta launched a new international discourse on the oceans, based upon justice among States and recognition that ocean space and its finite resources should be dealt with holistically. He provided the catalyst for negotiations that culminated in the Convention, a framework for dealing with all the ways in which humanity interacts with the oceans. The Convention has created a robust but flexible framework for balancing intricate relationships, such as those of coastal states and seafaring nations, as well as for balancing protection and preservation of the marine environment with sustainable use of resources of the oceans.
To assess the importance of the Convention’s contribution to global security and to sustainable development, we need only imagine a world in which the drafters of the Convention had failed. For example, without the Convention’s precise description of the rights and duties of coastal states, there would have been a complex web of conflicting territorial and jurisdictional claims based on differing views of the law, providing a constant source of tensions between states and thwarting efforts to enhance security and prosperity through stable and equitable maritime boundaries. Without the framework for fisheries set out in the Convention, the roadmap for sustainable fisheries reflected in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and the related regional fisheries management agreements would have been virtually inconceivable. And without that roadmap, our journey towards the eventual achievement of sustainable fisheries across the globe could hardly have started.
The Convention’s institutions are playing an important role in realising its promise:
• The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is contributing to the orderly and consistent application and interpretation of the Convention.
• The International Seabed Authority, charged with exercising stewardship over the international seabed Area – the common heritage of mankind – is well-advanced in its initial task of enabling exploration of seabed minerals while ensuring the protection and preservation of unique deep sea ecosystems.
• And the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has made important headway in working with coastal States to define the interface between national jurisdiction and the common heritage. Indeed Australia, on 24 May 2012, proclaimed a significant portion of its continental shelf on the basis of the Commission’s recommendations. But Australia is determined that all relevant States, including friends and neighbours in our region, should benefit from the work of the Commission in helping to determine definitively the extent of our respective national jurisdictions. We are therefore sharing our experience and expertise with coastal states – and particularly developing countries – around the world, and have contributed to the Trust Fund to help developing countries to prepare submissions to the Commission.
On the eve of Rio+20, we should recall our collective commitment, enshrined in the preamble of the Convention, to promote equitable and efficient utilisation of marine resources, the conservation of marine living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment. The Convention provides a broad legal basis for progress towards the ‘blue economy’ (a term coined by countries in the Pacific who have a great stake in ensuring the sustainable use of the oceans) by addressing coherently poverty, food security, sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection.
Our ‘Constitution for the Oceans’ creates a framework for interaction with two-thirds of the earth’s surface. This is a singular achievement. But it has broader significance – the promotion of peace by supplanting arbitrary action with the rule of law and by ensuring that, when disagreements arise, we share a common vocabulary with which to seek peaceful solutions. In this spirit, I reaffirm Australia’s commitment to continue to work to strengthen and enhance the Convention framework, for the benefit of all peoples of the world.