General Assembly Commits to Strengthened Framework for Oceans

09 December 2009 | News story

Following an extensive day-long debate on oceans and the law of the sea, the United Nations General Assembly adopted two wide-ranging resolutions last week to help to guide States in preserving ocean health including the protection of threatened fish stocks and marine habitats around the world.

At its 64th Session there were 120 votes in favour of the resolution on oceans and the law of the sea which addresses the concern over the destruction of marine habitats that might result from land-based and coastal development activities. The resolution recognizes that implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea could be enhanced by international cooperation, technical assistance and advancing scientific knowledge. It also highlights the crucial role of international cooperation at the global, regional, subregional and bilateral levels in combating maritime security threats, including piracy.

The 34-page resolution, which includes recognition of the work carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on issues such as ocean acidification, is one of the longest and most comprehensive resolutions adopted by the Assembly.

The second text that was adopted by the consensus addressed sustainable fisheries, and recognized the need for States, individually and through regional fisheries management organizations, to apply precautionary and ecosystem approaches to the management of human activities in the ocean and to implement effective port State measures. Several delegates shared a concern regarding the blue fin tuna quota for the coming year which is much higher than that recommended by the scientific advisory body of the relevant regional fisheries management organizations.

Some 40 speakers took the floor in the debate throughout the day, highlighting various aspects of the resolutions they found either innovative or needing attention, including Dr. Harlan Cohen, IUCN’s Advisor on Ocean Governance and International Institutions.

On behalf of IUCN Dr. Cohen welcomed the resolutions before the General Assembly. On the issue of climate change, he noted that warming temperatures together with ocean acidification threaten the integrity of coral reefs and other important marine ecosystems. He said carbon emissions had to be reduced quickly and sharply to protect the world’s oceans and discussed other steps that could be taken that would significantly reduce existing stressors and build ecosystem resilience to climate change.

"We welcome the progress made on creating a a regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects on a continual and systematic basis, and the agreement to implement the FAO’s 2008 International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High-Seas which will help manage sustainable fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems such as seamounts and cold water corals," said Dr Cohen. "The decision by the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries to support the development of a comprehensive global record of fishing, refrigerated transport, and supply vessels is also greatly received by my delegation."

IUCN welcomes progress with respect of bottom fishing as called for in General Assembly resolution 61/105, though notes that further actions are necessary to strengthen implementation, in particular to conduct assessments in advance of such fishing, to conduct further marine scientific research and to use the best scientific and technical information available to identify where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known to occur or are likely to occur and to adopt conservation and management measures to prevent significant adverse impacts on such ecosystems or to close such areas to bottom fishing until conservation and management measures have been established. IUCN also notes that more needs to be done quickly to reach a 2012 target to establish networks of marine protected areas.

The adopted resolutions included requests to the United Nations Secretary-General to provide for a number of important meetings in New York in 2010 on marine issues. These include:

  • 1 – 5 February 2010 meeting of Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction;
  • March 2010 a two day meeting: the ninth round of informal consultations of States Parties to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement;
  • 25 – 29 May 2010 resumed Review Conference on the UN Fish Stocks Agreement;
  • 14 – 18 June 2010 meeting of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
  • 21 – 25 June 2010 Open-ended informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea;
  • 30 August – 3 September 2010 Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole to recommend a course of action to the General Assembly on the regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects.