Remarks on Agenda Item 77: Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Lloyd Claycomb
Special Advisor

New York City
December 5, 2017


Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, my delegation is pleased to co-sponsor the General Assembly resolution on oceans and the law of the sea. This annual resolution serves as an important opportunity for the global community to identify key ocean issues and develop constructive ways to address them. The United States values the platform that the UN General Assembly provides to elevate these issues.

In particular, we are pleased that this year’s resolution recognizes the significant and continuing contributions of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network in fostering scientific cooperation and building capacity to monitor and study ocean acidification. Scientists established this collaborative international science network in 2013 to document the status and progress of ocean acidification. The network’s membership now includes more than 400 scientists from 67 countries and continues to grow rapidly. We encourage all Member States and their scientists to participate in the network.

We are also pleased that this year’s resolution encourages the global effort to map the ocean floor. Mapping the seafloor will lead to critical benefits to the world including sustainable management of living resources, safe navigation, understanding ocean circulation patterns, and access to seabed resources. Such mapping also provides scientific information for models of tsunami inundation and storm surges. We encourage all Member States to consider contributing to this important effort.

Among the most important issues contained in this year’s oceans resolution is the declaration of the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” starting in 2021. The Decade of Ocean Science will stimulate international cooperation on marine science so that we can identify and fill critical gaps in our knowledge. It will increase our understanding of ocean dynamics and marine ecosystems – and their impact on society. The Decade also will allow us to seek science-based solutions for sustaining benefits from the ocean.

In relation to references in the resolution to the 2030 Agenda agreed in previous years, the United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a global framework for sustainable development that can help countries work toward global peace and prosperity. We applaud the call for shared responsibility in the Agenda and emphasize that all countries have a role to play in achieving its vision. We also strongly support national responsibility stressed in the Agenda. However, each country has its own development priorities, and we emphasize that countries must work towards implementation in accordance with their own national circumstances and priorities. At this time, we cannot express support for every specific goal or target of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In relation to references in the resolution to the Paris Agreement, we note that on August 4 the United States communicated to the U.N. depository that it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, consistent with the terms of the Agreement, unless the President can identify suitable terms for re-engagement. Further, the language on climate change in this resolution is without prejudice to evolving U.S. positions. We recognize that climate change is a complex global challenge and stand ready to continue working with others on this issue.

We would like to thank Mr. Thembile Joyini of South Africa for his coordination of the oceans resolution. He did an outstanding job. We also would like to thank Director Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli and the staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for their expertise and support.

We would like to express our appreciation for delegations’ hard work and cooperation in negotiating this resolution. It is our hope that this spirit of cooperation will characterize our efforts to address the numerous and complex issues that lie ahead for the ocean.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, regarding the General Assembly resolution on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, the United States was pleased to participate in the Preparatory Committee on the Conservation and Sustainable use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. In particular, we welcomed discussions on marine protection and environmental impact assessments, and how a possible new treaty could be used to conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity.

While we were pleased with the Preparatory Committee discussions, we were disappointed with its outcome. In particular, we were disappointed that the Preparatory Committee process did not enable delegations to negotiate consensus-based elements of a draft text of a new instrument, as the General Assembly had mandated it to do.

The issues before us are difficult and complex. Without a consensus-based starting point, my delegation is concerned that we will be unable to find a path forward, and that rather than reach an outcome that can be supported by all, instead we will have a controversial result that is not in keeping with the balance that was so carefully achieved in the Law of the Sea Convention.

For this reason, we strongly believe that the Intergovernmental Conference should operate by consensus. We believe this is the best way to find effective and lasting solutions on BBNJ that will be supported by the most States.

Unfortunately, the draft resolution before us does not mandate decision-making by consensus. And for that reason, we are unable to support it. However, we will not block consensus.

My delegation remains hopeful that we can make progress toward our shared goal of conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and urges all States to continue to work on the basis of consensus as the best path to a meaningful and lasting new agreement.

The United States would like to thank Kate Neilson of New Zealand and Pablo Arrocha from Mexico for their tremendous efforts in coordinating this resolution.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

Regarding the sustainable fisheries resolution, the United States greatly appreciates the efforts of the facilitator, Andreas Kravik of Norway, for his tireless management of this challenging negotiation. The United States deeply values the important work being done throughout the world on sustainable fisheries, and supports almost the entire General Assembly resolution that we have before us. This resolution represents significant work to address global priorities, including achieving sustainable fisheries, fully implementing international fisheries agreements, combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, strengthening fisheries governance, and many other important policy themes.

Unfortunately, this resolution contains language that the U.S. Administration is unable to support, namely, operative paragraphs 119 and 120. With respect to operative paragraph 120, this same paragraph appeared in the outcome of the UN Oceans Conference in June, and the United States dissociated from that paragraph at that time, stating, “The WTO’s independence from the UN must be respected, and we continue to believe that the UN must not attempt to speak to ongoing or future work in the WTO, reinterpret existing WTO rules and agreements, or undermine the WTO’s independent mandate and processes. Continued attempts to do so at the UN will make it difficult for the United States to join consensus on resolutions.” We are dismayed that this paragraph now appears in the resolution before us.

The United States also notes that Paragraph 119 contains outdated references to the Doha Development Agenda, DDA. WTO members at the Tenth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in December 2015 did not reaffirm the DDA, and WTO members are no longer negotiating under that framework. We cannot join consensus on language that does not appear to reflect that important development.

It is with great regret that we must call a vote on this resolution, because we continue to oppose these objectionable paragraphs. We hasten to add that we continue to support the rest of the sustainable fisheries resolution, which provides critically important policy guidance on sustainable fisheries management to Member States.

The United States remains committed to taking strong cooperative action to ensure the sustainability of shared marine fisheries resources and combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. We will continue to work with other nations through the UN system and within the regional fisheries management organizations to advance key issues highlighted in this resolution.

Thank you.