I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia*and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
November Sixteenth 2019 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which establishes the overarching legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out.
With its 168 Parties, including the European Union, the UNCLOS is rightly recognised as the constitution of the oceans whose provisions generally reflect customary international law. By establishing the legal order for seas and oceans, the Convention contributes to sustainable development as well as to the peace, security, cooperation and friendly relations among all nations. To this end, it is imperative that the sovereignty and sovereign rights over the maritime zones of all States, including those generated by islands, are respected. The European Union and its Member States remain committed Parties to the UNCLOS and its implementing agreements, including the 1995 Agreement. We sincerely hope that the goal of universal participation in this Convention will one day be met.
However, we also continue to acknowledge that the Convention should remain relevant and able to meet today's, as well as future, challenges. For this reason, the EU and its Member States recognize the progress achieved in this year's two sessions of the Intergovernmental Conference established to negotiate the international legally binding instrument under the UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Concluding an ambitious BBNJ implementing agreement in 2020 remains a political priority for the EU and its Member States. In this regard, we continue to support the President of the Conference, Ambassador Rena Lee, in advancing negotiations on the text of the draft agreement and remain committed to engaging with all delegations to conclude the negotiations next year.
Despite our commitments, the status and health of the oceans is not improving. The challenges facing our oceans include, amongst others, the impacts of climate change, pollution, including from microplastics, excessive nutrients, and anthropogenic underwater noise, overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and continued loss of biodiversity.
This has been highlighted in a number of eye-opening reports issued this year, including from UN Environment Programme, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
These ubiquitous threats require our collective firm political commitment and effective action in line with the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach, if we are to be successful in achieving and maintaining oceans that are clean, healthy and productive. We believe that this is ever more necessary in view of the growing importance of sustainable ocean economies, the blue economy, for many different countries to help them meet their development aspirations. We want to assure you of the EU and its Member States’ commitment in this regard in order that the oceans can continue to support sustainable development for the good of all humanity.
We would like to reiterate that the science is clear that climate change represents an existential threat to life on earth. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase taking us further from being able to achieve the 2 degree Celsius target (and let alone the 1.5 degree Celsius target). The impacts of climate change on the oceans are increasing and include ocean acidification, warming of the oceans with diminishing productivity leading to reduced fisheries catch potential, as well as rising sea levels and extreme weather events which have hit different parts of the world in recent months.
As also made clear in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, while ambitious mitigation and effective adaptation will be beneficial for sustainable development, conversely, delaying action will only escalate costs and increase risks of irreversible changes.
We would like to thank Spain and Chile for the ongoing Blue Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which raises the visibility of the ocean-climate nexus. We also look forward to next year’s ocean conferences in Lisbon and Palau and hope that they will continue to mobilise action, including by the private sector, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans.
The EU and its Member States take the opportunity to reiterate our strong commitment to conclude the negotiations on multilateral disciplines on fisheries subsidies in the context of the World Trade Organisation in line with commitments under the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. We continue to hold that harmful subsidies which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing are one of the main impediments to achieving sustainable fisheries. On the other hand, we are pleased to witness the increasing numbers of Parties to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. We take the opportunity to reiterate the call on States to become Parties to this Agreement.
Turning to issues relating to the social and human dimension of sustainable development, the EU and its Member States would like to reiterate the importance of ensuring decent working conditions on board fishing vessels. For this reason, we thus encourage States to become Parties to the relevant Conventions, particularly the Cape Town Agreement as well as the Work in Fishing Convention of the International Labour Organisation. We also want to stress that we would like to see resolved, as soon as possible, the long-standing issue concerning the medical insurance coverage of the members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf so that they can have access to adequate medical coverage while in New York.
In conclusion, we recognise that both resolutions we will be adopting today are important instruments that should serve to reflect not only the latest significant developments and the challenges in the area of the oceans and law of the sea and fisheries, but also serve all Member States as regular political stocktaking and guidance in this regard. For this reason, the EU and its Member States have participated actively in the consultations preparing these resolutions.
Nevertheless, we would like to express our disappointment that it was not possible to include any substantive language in the Sustainable Fisheries resolution in relation to the findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on the impacts of climate change on the oceans and only very weak references in the Omnibus resolution.
We hold that the UN and these resolutions are the appropriate forum to discuss and reflect relevant substantive issues relating to the impacts of climate change on the oceans, including their biodiversity as well as fisheries. We consider that, not including such issues transmits a negative message of the importance that the UNGA as well as most Member States accord to climate change and its impacts.
It is solely for this reason that, unlike previous years, we have chosen not to co-sponsor the Sustainable Fisheries resolution, despite the otherwise excellent results achieved. In no way should this be interpreted as a reproach for the work of the coordinator of this resolution. In fact, we would like to express our appreciation for the excellent stewardship demonstrated by both coordinators of the two resolutions, Ms Natalie Morris Sharma and Mr Andreas Kravik.
We would also like to thank the chairs of the different oceans and the law of the sea related meetings whose able leadership guided the work of delegations throughout the year. The EU and its Member States would like to express their gratitude to the Secretariat and to the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for their excellent work and constant support. We take this opportunity to thank the Director, Ms Goettsche-Wanli, for her sterling work leading the Division over the last years and to wish her a happy retirement.
Mr President, thank you very much.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.