AOSIS recognizes UNCLOS as the “Constitution of the oceans and seas”

2022-04-29 AOSIS Download PDF

Topic: Oceans

Mr. President,
I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States
(AOSIS)—the small island, large Ocean Member States for whom the Ocean is intrinsic to our
cultures, communities and economies.
We thank Grenada, Kenya, Denmark, Portugal and Singapore for this initiative to observe the
40th Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Today marks the commemoration of arguably one of the most effective and respected
conventions in the international legal regime. Over the last 40 years, this convention has
provided an effective framework for the governance of the oceans and its resources.
UNCLOS holds particular importance for the SIDS considering our jurisdiction over vast swaths
of the oceans and the importance of the marine environment to our economies. But there is a
more personal connection for us, with a Singaporean as President of the IGC and the Agreement
being signed in Jamaica. But more than that, for many small islands the negotiations of
UNCLOS were our first independent forays into international law. Only 13 SIDS were
independent when UNCLOS negotiations started. Over the decade that this agreement was being
negotiated, 18 SIDS became independent. For my own country, Antigua & Barbuda, which
became independent in late 1981, UNCLOS was the second international agreement that we
Over the past 40 years, the UNCLOS regime has formed the basis for, among other things, the
conduct of maritime commerce, freedom of navigation, protection of the marine environment,
and the very maritime entitlements that are so essential to us. This Agreement has provided the
international community with the stability, security, certainty and predictability necessary for the
orderly development of the oceans.
Mr. President
While UNCLOS has assisted with securing the conservation and sustainable use of marine
biodiversity via national, regional and international cooperation, there are still significant gaps in
Ocean governance and regulation.
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In this vein, AOSIS looks forward to concluding the fifth session of the Intergovernmental
Conference on BBNJ with the adoption of a robust instrument governing the conservation and
sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, and we are
eager to immediately commence work on its operationalization. We reiterate our call for the
instrument to give due recognition to the special circumstances of SIDS that are in part due to
their unique characteristics, dependence, and particular exposure to the Ocean and its
While UNCLOS acknowledges the varied needs and circumstances of new and emerging
economies, the international community has subsequently gone further. and recognised the
special circumstance of Small Island Developing States at the Rio Conference in 1992, and this
has been reflected in all relevant subsequent international agreements such as the Port State
Measures Agreement. For SIDS, this is an essential element of the forthcoming BBNJ
Mr. President, I would now like to turn to the future of UNCLOS.
There is a significant Ocean matter that relates to the security of all SIDS: climate change-related
sea-level rise. Such sea-level rise raises important questions regarding the political, economic
and environmental stability that the last 40 years of the UNCLOS have built.
The Heads of State and Government of AOSIS Member States met in 2021, following a similar
meeting by the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum the same year. Both meetings resulted in
leaders’ declarations that addressed climate change-related sea-level rise and its relationship to
maritime zones.
Both were similarly clear that there is no obligation under the UNCLOS to keep
baselines and outer limits of maritime zones under review nor to update charts or lists of
geographical coordinates once deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Once deposited, such maritime zones and the rights and entitlements that flow from them shall
continue to apply without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate
change-related sea-level rise.
Simply put, SIDS require their notified baselines and outer limits of maritime zones, and the
rights and entitlements that flow from them under UNCLOS, to remain unaffected by rising sea
levels due to climate change. AOSIS welcomes the work being done by the International Law
Commission on this topic, and we pledge to continue to contribute and engage at every possible
Mr. President
AOSIS welcomes and pledges its support to all the efforts to strengthen Ocean governance
through the UNCLOS framework. We also accept and acknowledge that the challenges we face
are cross-cutting, so too must be the responses. Many organisations and bodies, may they be
global, regional, or local, have a role in Oceans governance. Still, all efforts must work in
harmony with the principles laid down in the UNCLOS, including those pertaining to the
protection and preservation of the marine environment from various forms of pollution. In this
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connection, we look ahead to the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, as well as to advancing
discussions on the Ocean-climate nexus throughout UNFCCC negotiations. And, we welcome
the launching of an intergovernmental negotiating committee for an international legally binding
instrument to end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
are pleased that in its 40 years after its adoption, the UNCLOS legal regime has burgeoned into
conventions, instruments, processes and initiatives that govern the behaviour of States at sea.
This has always been the vision; the UNCLOS is fondly noted as the Constitution of the oceans
and seas. AOSIS, however, urges our colleagues to think more actively on how that Constitution
can assist the most vulnerable in the trying times that come.
I thank you

Sub Topic: Law of the Sea