Small island states call for broader legal rules and stronger partnerships to sustainably manage the oceans

Detailing another legal approach, Silas Bule Melve, Vanuatu’s climate change minister, pointed out that his country – as part of a coalition – is considering asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on how international law existing contains protections for the oceans.

Small island developing states emphasized that international law, strong partnerships and honored commitments chart the course for sustainable ocean management, calling for broader legal rules and demanding greater action from those who are responsible for increased pressure on marine ecosystems as high-level discussions continue against the backdrop of the historic maritime city.

The 2022 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development has entered its second day, bringing together representatives from government as well as civil society in a range of conversations, from a high-level plenary to multi-stakeholder dialogues.

Flavien Joubert, Minister of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment of Seychelles, pointed out that the world is grappling with “giants” such as marine pollution and climate change and underlined that the survival of its country is linked to the health of the ocean. This issue concerns all States, large or small, and global initiatives, such as the Ocean Conference, provide important platforms to advocate for change and communicate a collective aspiration for a better future. A small number of dedicated leaders can turn the tide in the fight against threats to the oceans, he added.

Jorge Lopes Bom Jesus, Prime Minister of São Tomé and Príncipe, echoed this sentiment, stressing that the Ocean Conference provides a good opportunity for his country to reach out to bilateral and multilateral partners. Advocacy is an essential part of the government’s strategy to move forward in its transition to a sustainable blue economy, and he said this paradigm shift requires decisive strategic choice, new investments and the sharing of expertise.

On this point, Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni, Prime Minister of Tonga, stressed that partnership is crucial for the success of sustainability initiatives, calling for a collective effort to help his country with financing, technology transfer and building capacities. He also urged the international community to support sustainable blue economies and negotiate instruments to tackle plastic pollution and protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

José Ulisses Correia e Silva, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, also highlighted the need for binding legal norms and rules that express global commitments and ultimately lead to a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights. Small Island Developing States are much more maritime than terrestrial and therefore highly vulnerable to climate change and external impacts, he said, calling for strong commitment to climate finance and partnerships in innovation, science and technology.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Minister of Singapore, also insisted that the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean should be carried out under the aegis of international law, and that efforts in this field should be based on science and data. He highlighted his country’s presidency of the Intergovernmental Conference to Negotiate an International Legally Binding Instrument on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, and called on delegations to quickly conclude an ambitious and lasting treaty agreement.

Detailing another legal approach, Silas Bule Melve, Vanuatu’s climate change minister, pointed out that his country – as part of a coalition – is considering asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on how international law existing contains protections for the oceans. The goal is not to assign blame, he said, but to find a pathway to bolster ambitious climate action, as the extractive focus of colonial aspirations has led to the current political, economic and environmental disasters.

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment of Timor-Leste, underlined that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is essential for good governance of the oceans, because “zones without governance are areas where uncertainty breeds”. He said the government had recently succeeded in demarcating permanent maritime borders with Australia and was currently working with Indonesia to achieve this. He also underlined that, if all are not equally responsible for the pressure exerted on nature, all will suffer and, cruelly, those who live in better harmony with nature will often be the first victims.

John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize, highlighting the “huge disconnect” between words and actions to address the climate crisis, pointed out that – while Belize is doing its part to protect the ocean – its efforts , like those in most small island developing states, have been constrained by a lack of funding. While his country has shown leadership in reducing emissions and protecting coastal areas, he stressed that “we demand action from those who put us in this position.”
Steffi Lemke, Germany’s Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, said she was concerned about the “overheated, acidified, overused, overused and polluted” state of the the ocean, underlined the Environment Ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) “Ocean Deal” adopted at the end of May. This measure provides an urgently needed framework for future protection efforts, and she further noted the G7’s commitment to start tackling plastic pollution now, rather than waiting for an international convention.

In that vein, Jitendra Singh, India’s Minister of Earth Sciences, joined other speakers in detailing national plans to ban single-use plastics, which his country plans to do. Efforts are already underway to phase out plastic and polyethylene bags and promote alternatives, such as cotton or jute bags. He added that the government has proposed to establish a sustainable coastal and ocean research institute to meet the needs and aspirations of Pacific island countries.
David Parker, New Zealand’s Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, pointed out that his country had spent more than NZ$68.5 million on ocean priorities since 2018, and even more on core funding for regional agencies. which are essential to help Pacific island countries protect the ocean. He also highlighted his country’s state-of-the-art fisheries management system and its focus on protecting endangered species.

John Kerry, the President’s special climate envoy, called on the international community to maintain the momentum of the Our Ocean conference, held two months ago in Palau, where more than 400 pledges – valued at over $16 billion – were taken. He also encouraged countries and other stakeholders to join the Action Alliance for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, stressing that ocean issues are human-induced and therefore subject to human solutions.

Also speaking were heads of state and government, ministers and representatives of Morocco (speaking on behalf of the African Group of States), Namibia, Kenya, Qatar, Peru, Thailand , Indonesia, China, Norway, Argentina, Netherlands, Saint Lucia, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Russian Federation, Solomon Islands, Zimbabwe, Maldives, Barbados , Sweden, Brazil, Croatia, Ireland, Cyprus, Mozambique, United Kingdom, Marshall Islands, Japan, Guyana, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Algeria, as well as the State of Palestine.

Source: press release

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Lynn A. Saleh