Statement by Ambassador Peter Thomson, President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority’s 21st Session, Kingston, Jamaica, 12 July 2016
Ladies & Gentlemen
Welcome to the opening of the Council at this the Twenty-Second Session of the International Seabed Authority. I’m sure you all wish to join me in thanking the Government and People of Jamaica for once again providing us with such fine hospitality here in Kingston. Our thanks also to the Secretariat for their preparations for what will no doubt be another successful session.
Change is a constant, but after more than two decades of learned deliberation, there is a solid body of knowledge and understanding of responsibilities ingrained into this institution. As I look around the conference centre, observing the faces of colleagues from sessions past mingling with those of delegates attending for the first time, I’m invigorated by a sense of continuity. It is the strength of this institutional continuity that will lead us judiciously through the challenges ahead.
Permit me to note that this is the seventh consecutive annual session of the Council I have attended. What an honour it has been to have led the Fiji delegation in these chambers over the years, and to have served as President of both the Assembly and Council of the Authority. Sadly for me, tomorrow will be my last day at the Authority, as my presence is required in New York to take on further international duties. Therefore these opening remarks also constitute my farewell to the Authority.
One thing I’ve learnt from forty-four years of public service is the importance of the baton change when your term is up and it has come time to hand over tasks and duties. Thus after the election of my successor this morning, I will be availing myself to him to convey lessons learned and advice on the work ahead. Foremost among the latter will be the Article 154 Review, since the President of the Council is required to sit on the Review Committee.
Delegates will recall that at last year’s session it was agreed the much-delayed review of the International Seabed Authority should stretch over two years, rather than just the one year originally proposed. The main reason for prolonging the review period was to give States Parties the opportunity to deliberate at this the 22nd annual session on the interim findings of the review consultants. I therefore encourage you all to diligently employ this fortnight’s session in giving your collegiate attention to the draft findings of the review. Properly concluded at the 23rd Session next year, I’ve no doubt the final outcomes of the review will prove to be an important milestone in the Authority’s development.
If I were to leave one parting comment for the review’s consideration, it would be that the International Seabed Authority must be given the necessary financial and human resources and strategic direction to lift its capacity, and indeed its authority, in the safeguarding of the environmental integrity of the planet’s seabed. To my mind, this is a current deficiency at the Authority and will remain so until there is a strategic plan that we can hold ourselves accountable to.
Since September last year, we have been living in the era of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. This universal agenda was adopted by the consensus of 193 Member States at the United Nations. It is designed to transform our world for the better, leaving none behind and guiding humanity’s place on this planet to a sustainable future.
Of the seventeen sustainable development goals launched by the 2030 Agenda, there are many that impinge on the responsibilities of the International Seabed Authority. But there is one in particular that must be a game-changer for the Authority going forward: Sustainable Development Goal 14, calling on humanity to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Targets of this goal include the prevention of marine pollution, protecting marine ecosystems, conservation of marine areas, increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity. SDG14 also calls for the enhancement of the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In support of the implementation of SDG14, the United Nations General Assembly has mandated the holding of an Oceans Conference, to be co-hosted by the Governments of Sweden and Fiji. The conference will be held in Fiji from 5th to 9th June, 2017, and all relevant stakeholders will be welcome to attend. The co-hosts are determined the conference will be a positive force in reversing the cycle of decline in which the Ocean is currently caught, be it through increasing marine pollution, declining fish-stocks or ocean acidification and ocean warming. As one of the organizers of the conference, may I say that in the light of the International Seabed Authority’s many marine responsibilities, it is expected the Authority must play a full and constructive role at the conference and the outcomes thereafter.
Another international development of key relevance to the future work of the Authority is the preparation of international law to govern marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, or as it is commonly known “BBNJ”. A preparatory committee has been established by the United Nations General Assembly to develop substantive recommendations on the elements of a draft text for an international legally binding instrument on BBNJ under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The preparatory committee is expected to present its report to the General Assembly in 2017.
Here at the Authority we govern the international seabed, and given the juxtaposition of the seabed and the water column above it, common sense dictates that the International Seabed Authority must be intimately involved in the development of BBNJ law. Such logic can be extended to suggest there exists a strong case to be made for synergies in administration of BBNJ and the international seabed, perhaps even to the point of basing such administration here in Kingston in close coordination with the International Seabed Authority. Economies of scale alone make this suggestion worthy of serious consideration.
Distinguished Delegates, as my final contribution to the International Seabed Authority, I would like to say just a few more words on the protection of the marine environment. Firstly I would underline that the fundamental concept behind the international seabed regime, and one of the key factors that distinguishes it from the regime for the high seas, is that exploitation of the resources of the international seabed is permissible only under contract to the International Seabed Authority.
In other words, the whole of the international seabed, making up 54% of the Ocean’s area, is off limits to any form of exploitation unless and until this Authority decides to allow it. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea requires that the Authority will only permit access to the international seabed if it is for peaceful purposes, in keeping with the Charter of the United Nations, and if it is sure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent damage to the marine environment. The environmental regulations adopted by the Authority are binding on States Parties and those contractors who have been permitted to carry out activities on the international seabed. They are also far more stringent than any rules currently in place for the high seas.
In effect, the vastness of the international seabed is a protected zone. It is under the collective ownership of humankind, with the International Seabed Authority having the heavy responsibility of acting as its custodian for the benefit of present and future generations.
Having all given their solemn commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular in this instance SDG14, the Oceans goal of the 2030 Agenda, I’m confident that States Parties will carry forward their custodial responsibilities at the International Seabed Authority with unimpeachable diligence; so that when the year 2030 is finally upon us, it will be known to all that this Authority has played in full its essential part in preserving the integrity of Ocean’s environment.
I thank you.