The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets forth the legal order for the world’s seas and oceans. It provides a solid foundation for peaceful, responsible and predictable management of the oceans. Within a relatively short period of time, the Convention established itself as the “constitution of the oceans”, which outlines lasting and fundamental rules for ever-changing ocean conditions, as recently exemplified by climate change and ice melt in the Arctic Ocean. Here the Convention provides clarity as regards obligations and rights related for example to the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, the protection of the marine environment and marine scientific research.
At this commemorative event for the 30th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Convention, it is appropriate to reflect upon its achievements.
Significant compromises were reached in the negotiations on the Convention in order to create a “fair” package that would make an important contribution to international law. One important issue during the negotiations was the opportunity for coastal States to exercise sovereign rights with regard to the exploitation of natural resources in a much broader area than the territorial waters recognised by international law at the time. A successful compromise was reached with the introduction of the “Castaneda-Vindenes formula”. Exclusive rights were established for the coastal States in a broad, contiguous zone, while the essential freedom of the high seas was preserved under the regime known today as the exclusive economic zone. Economic zones extending up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines were established by most coastal States.
The development of the new law of the sea culminated with the adoption of the Convention in 1982, and its subsequent entry into force in 1994.
Since the Convention’s entry into force, we have seen important developments as regards the interpretation of the provisions on maritime delimitation. Norway welcomes the International Court of Justice’s contribution and its crucial role in consolidating and refining the principles of maritime delimitation. In this way, the Court has provided invaluable guidance for States engaged in the negotiation of treaties on the delimitation of the continental shelf and economic zones.
Norway has contributed to the consolidation of the law, for example in the 1993 Greenland-Jan Mayen case and in negotiations on maritime delimitation agreements with all its neighbours.
The establishment and determination of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles is a central element in the implementation of the Convention. This is necessary to clarify the legal framework for future shelf activities as well as environmental protection. A clear legal framework also has significant development implications.
The establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in accordance with the rules of the Convention requires in-depth, interdisciplinary knowledge of geology, geophysics and hydrography. Preparing the data and materials to be used in the submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is a complex operation, and many developing countries face challenges in preparing the necessary documentation. The General Assembly has repeatedly called upon States with the necessary financial and technical resources and relevant capacity and expertise to assist developing countries in the preparation of their submissions. Norway would like to encourage all States with the necessary resources to assist developing countries in the preparation of documentation to the Commission. Norway provides considerable technical assistance to developing countries in this regard. The aim is to enable our partner countries to exercise their rights to the natural resources in their continental shelf and thus provide them with an important basis for economic and social development. Since 2008, we have cooperated with Benin, São Tome and Principe, Somalia, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Mozambique on this issue.
At present our support is focused on sub-regional cooperation with Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone. This support includes a desktop study of their continental shelf, training and capacity-building, financing and management of the acquisition of additional seismic and bathymetric data, data analysis, drafting of the submissions, and, where applicable, assistance with determining baselines and the establishment of exclusive economic zones. Our cooperation is based on African ownership, African cooperation and Norwegian support.
We have recently also initiated cooperation with Liberia.
One of the main challenges today relates to implementation of and compliance with the Convention. All States must ensure effective compliance with the Convention through national legislation and enforcement. In this context, the sustainable use and conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction is one important issue that is under discussion at present. We remain committed to the process within the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study these issues.