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 universal and unified legal framework 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”.
It would have been appropriate to adopt a declaration to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention, but unfortunately, it was not possible to do so. In this situation and on this occasion it is time to reflect upon the Convention’s achievements and renew our commitment to its integrity and predominant role as the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.
Significant compromises were reached in the negotiations of the Convention in order to create a “fair” package with rights and obligations that would make an important contribution to international law. In particular, the establishment of exclusive rights for the coastal States in a broad contiguous zone today known as the Exclusive Economic Zone, while at the same time preserving the essential freedoms of the high seas in the same area, was a remarkable negotiating achievement that carefully balanced conflicting interests and created new law.
Establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf clarifies the legal framework for future shelf activities as well as environmental protection, and is a central element in the implementation of the Convention.
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 have faced challenges in preparing the necessary documentation for a full-fledged submission, and in particular doing so within the time limit described by the Convention. This was clearly recognised by the 18th meeting of States Parties, which decided that the time limit may be satisfied by submitting preliminary information indicative of a continental shelf extending beyond 200 miles. 45 States, mostly developing states, has to date made use of this opportunity and thus potentially secured vast resources for the development of their countries and the benefit of future generations.
The General Assembly has repeatedly called upon States with the necessary financial and technical resources to assist developing countries in the preparation of their submissions. Norway has provided considerable technical assistance to developing countries in this regard, and encourages all States with the necessary resources to provide such assistance.
At present, our support is focused on sub-regional cooperation with Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Our cooperation is based on African ownership, African cooperation and Norwegian support. As part of the cooperation, all of these States submitted preliminary information within the time limit. Based on a framework agreement concluded in 2010 Norway has offered technical and financial support for an unprecedented cooperation between the West African countries with the aim of presenting a final submission to the commission.
One of the main challenges today relates to implementation of and compliance with the Convention. Norway is committed to the process within the Working Group to study issues related to conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction. Norway remains open to negotiating a new implementing agreement under the UNCLOS that could add value to the existing international legal framework. Such a needs-based approach requires identification of legal gaps in the present regime and a consideration of how best to fill them.
A new agreement must be fully integrated into the established Law of the Sea architecture - under the Convention. Building on the established architecture of the law of the sea, a new agreement could add value by fully recognizing, complementing and strengthening the co-operation and co-ordination within and between existing international and regional organisations, while respecting their mandates.
Thank you, Mr. President