Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
New York, New York
December 8, 2022
Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, distinguished Delegates.
It is an honor for me to be with you today representing the United States as the host country for this most special occasion.
The Law of the Sea Convention is a monumental achievement in the field of international law. Its tenets are as important today as they have ever been. The Convention sets forth a comprehensive legal framework governing uses of the ocean. And the institutions it established are functioning as envisioned.
The International Seabed Authority, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea contribute to the sustainable use of the ocean and its many resources, while helping to maintain international peace and security.
States have cooperated under the convention framework to implement specific Convention provisions through other agreements, including the agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.
These are among the convention’s important legacies 40 years on. And progress under the Convention’s framework continues today.
Delegations are currently negotiating a new international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction – the so-called BBNJ agreement.
This vital new agreement will provide an unprecedented opportunity to coordinate science-based conservation and sustainable use of high seas biodiversity It would provide, for the first time, a coordinated and cross-sectoral approach to establishing high seas marine protected areas, while also protecting high seas freedoms and promoting marine scientific research. And we know protecting these areas is more important now than ever.
We look forward to the successful conclusion of these negotiations in March of next year, when delegations will be celebrating yet another momentous achievement for the international law of the sea.
Among the foundations of the Law of the Sea Convention are the sovereign rights and jurisdiction afforded to coastal states in their maritime zones, including for conserving and managing natural resources.
As greenhouse gas emissions rise, our ocean is becoming warmer, more acidic, and less productive, with a cascade effect on communities and livelihoods around the world.
Among the most devastating impact is sea-level rise, which threatens the very existence of some island nations and the livelihoods of people from coastal states around the world.
The United States recognizes that new trends are developing in the practices and views of states on the need for stable maritime zones in the face of sea-level rise.
The United States is committed to preserving the legitimacy of maritime zones, and associated rights and entitlements, that have been established consistent with international law as reflected in the Convention despite sea-level rise caused by climate change.
We are confident that this and other challenges to our ocean can and will be addressed peacefully and sustainably on the basis of the convention’s framework.
On this occasion marking the 40th anniversary of the Law of the Sea Convention, let me again reiterate the United States’ continued view that much of the convention reflects customary international law, and our steadfast commitment to upholding the rights, freedoms, and obligations of all UN member states as reflected in the convention.
Mr. President, in closing, it gives us great pleasure to celebrate this important milestone. This is a time to reflect on the contributions to international peace, security, sustainability, and prosperity memorialized by this landmark convention.
We have a moral obligation to continue to protect the ocean. It is vital to the survival of humans – our children and grandchildren – and all life on our beloved blue planet.