Effective and fair legal solutions needed to respond to sea-level rise

2020-11-05 Belize on behalf of AOSIS Download PDF

Topic: Oceans

Thank you Mr. Chair. As this is the first time that I am taking the floor, I wish
to congratulate you on your election and take this opportunity to commend you
for your skilled leadership guiding the work of the Sixth Committee.
2. Mr. Chair, Belize, as Chair of AOSIS would like to thank the International Law
Commission, and in particular the Study group on Sea-Level Rise in Relation to
International Law for their work over the past year. Despite not having a written
report from the ILC this year, we are thankful for the oral reports and the
opportunity to engage on this vital topic. We also welcome the First Issues
paper on law of the sea issues produced by two of the Co-Chairs of the Study
Group and look forward to the ILC’s formal consideration of the paper next
3. While sea-level rise is a global concern, the Member States of AOSIS will be
specially affected. We are 39 small island and low-lying developing States that
are deeply reliant on the ocean. Our fishing, tourism, and transportation
industries make heavy use of the maritime zones allocated to us under
UNCLOS. Rising seas threaten not only our physical structures, but our
economies, our food security, our health and education prospects, and even our
unique cultures and livelihoods.
4. Despite our efforts, we know that emissions are not being reduced fast enough
to prevent a significant increase in global temperatures and the resulting sealevel rise. Current projections place us on track for at least 3 degrees Celsius of
warming, which could lead to over 1 meter of sea-level rise by 2100.
5. This radical and relentless change to our oceans was not contemplated when
UNCLOS was being drafted in the 1970s and 80s—a point made clear in the
First Issues Paper. States were as likely to gain territory through accretion as
they were to lose it through erosion or avulsion.
6. As such, we agree with the observation of the First Issues Paper that nothing
prevents Member States from depositing geographic coordinates or large-scale
charts concerning the baselines and outer limits of maritime zones measured
from baselines, in accordance with the Convention, and then not updating those
coordinates or charts, in order to preserve their entitlements. Among other
things, as indicated in the First Issues Paper, an approach responding adequately
to the need to preserve legal stability, security, certainty, and predictability is
one based on the preservation of baselines and outer limits of maritime zones
measured therefrom and their entitlements.
7. Further, as highlighted by the submissions to the ILC and the statements in this
Committee, there is a body of State practice under development regarding the
preservation of maritime zones and the entitlements that flow from them. Many
small island and low-lying States have taken political and legislative measures
to preserve their baselines and the existing extent of their maritime zones,
through domestic legislation, maritime boundary agreements, and deposit of
charts or coordinates and declarations attached thereto.
8. We suggest that this more recent State practice, made in the context of climate
change and consistently rising sea levels, should be most relevant to the
consideration of the Study Group.
9. This State practice is relevant in two main ways. First, the VCLT (Vienna
Convention on the Law of Treaties) states that subsequent practice applying the
treaty, which evinces parties’ agreement on the treaty interpretation, shall be
taken into account. This is particularly useful where the treaty is silent on an
issue, as the Convention is with the requirement to update coordinates or charts.
This State Practice grounds the observations of the Co-Chairs that, in order to
preserve maritime zones and the entitlements that flow from them, State Parties
are not obligated to update their coordinates or charts once deposited.

10.Second, recognizing that not all States are party to the Convention, State
practice joined with opinio juris is evidence of customary international law.
While we recognize that there may not yet be sufficient State practice and
opinio juris to make a conclusion that there is a general customary rule, we
think that the trend is in that direction.
11.Nevertheless, the absence of a general customary rule does not have an effect
on the interpretation of the Convention, based on subsequent practice of its
States Parties.
12.We thank the Study Group for its work so far, look forward to the discussions
next year at the ILC and are ready to provide submissions on the other topics
under consideration by the Study Group. As it continues its work on sea-level
rise, we would encourage the ILC to continue to consider the perspectives of
small island and low lying States who continue to place faith in equalizing role
of international law. Only by doing so will the ILC be able to uncover legal
solutions that respond effectively, and fairly, to the challenges of sea-level rise.
13.Mr. Chairman, may I conclude by saying that this is the first time AOSIS has
spoken in the Sixth Committee. For Belize, as we wind down our work as Chair
of AOSIS in the Seventy-fifth session, it is critical for the record, that we
register SIDS’ perspective on this matter.
I thank you.

Sub Topic: Law of the Sea

Forum: 6C