Mr. Adam Hamid, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Maldives to the United Nations
At the Plenary on Agenda item 73: Oceans and Law of the Sea and Sustainable fisheries.
9 December 2022
Thank you Mr. President,
My delegation welcomes the Report of the Secretary-General, submitted under this agenda item, as well as the Resolution adopted that represent important developments related to Oceans and Law of the Sea. We are proud to commemorate the Fortieth anniversary of the adoption and opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We also thank Singapore and Norway for their able leadership in the consultations leading up to the aforementioned resolutions.
The world’s ocean is under constant and continuous threats from pollution, overfishing, warming temperatures, and acidification. As previous United Nations reports and scientists have warned, without a dramatic shift in human behaviour, countries are on track to permanently alter oceanographic processes and change how the earth’s climate is moderated. Crisis affecting our ocean is an existential threat to all humankind. The time to take action and save our ocean is now.
This year’s theme, which calls attention to the Global Ocean Observing System, is an excellent starting point. The world’s oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface, and humankind relies on its support for our economic, cultural, social, and environmental development and well-being. Ocean observing allows us to examine the effects of climate change and provide valuable insights to policymakers and countries alike. Further, ocean observing also aids in weather forecasting, which can save lives and promote sustainable development for a globalized ocean-based economy. We need more accurate ocean observing systems, and the 2030 goal is essential to providing the international community with much-needed resources.
A call for continued collective action against marine plastic pollutants remains essential. Shifts in consumption patterns and production means plastic pollution will remain a key challenge for this generation. The Maldives is a country comprised of hundreds of islands and thousands of kilometers of coastline. For large ocean states like the Maldives. any harm to the ocean, through plastic pollution or other climate change-based problems, threatens the coral reefs, fish stocks, and beaches that are not only the lifeline of our two key industries: fisheries and tourism, but also harm the coral reefs that serve as the first line of defense in protecting our islands against sea swells, king tides, and beach erosion. This is why we welcome the commencement of negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, and where my country is actively taking part in.
An Ocean Observing System is also necessary for our security. Multilateral cooperation on this system will allow us to make informed policy decisions that better protect our people from climate change as well as make the best decisions for ecotourism and sustainable development.
That is why the Maldives is committedto protecting the world’s ocean. We support the global initiative to protect thirty percent of the world’s ocean by 2030. In this effort, we have designated seventy-nine marine-protected areas, including fourteen percent of our coral reefs. Also, we have set a national target to fully phase out single-use plastics by 2030.
However, protecting the Ocean is too difficult for any single country, especially for a Small Island State like the Maldives, to accomplish alone. This colossal effort requires global multilateral cooperation to ensure that every country, every locality, and every community, in every corner of the globe is equipped with the resources necessary to take care of our oceans.
The Ocean Monitoring System is an integral part of the solution to solving the constellation of threats that our ocean faces.
The Maldives believes that the most serious threats to the ocean are global warming and sea-level rise. We refer back to the IPCC Special Report, published in October 2018, which warned of the devastation awaiting marine ecosystems if we continue to fail to take dramatic action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Remaining below the IPCC’s temperature threshold would provide SIDS, like the Maldives, more space for adaptation, although we will still face potentially irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems at 1.5oC. Particularly devastating for the Maldives, which relies on coral reefs to support our tourism industry and fisheries industry, , is the fact that 70-90% of coral reefs will be severely degraded at 1.5°C of warming. This number would increase to 99% at 2°C.
Global warming and climate change are existential threats to the Maldives. Our archipelago is comprised of small atolls and we are one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. Since 1989, the Maldives has been persistent in our advocacy for stronger collective action in combatting sea-level rise. In November 1989, the Maldives hosted the first ever Small States Conference on Sea-Level Rise to build a coalition that could mitigate against this threat. But over three decades later, the world is struggling to make headway . While the SIDs have galvanized support, the SIDs alone are not capable of preventing sea-level rise without more multilateral support, manifested through solutions like the Ocean Monitoring System.
We are now in a position where we need to seriously evaluate the possible legal implications of sea level rise. It has impacts on maritime boundaries, internal and external migration, and most importantly, it poses an existential threat to low-lying countries like ours. Therefore, the Maldives would like to reference the work of the International Law Commission in this year’s report on “Sea Level rise in relation to International Law.”
For the Maldives in particular, climate scientists have forecasted that before this century ends, our islands will be inundated – erased from the world map. The Maldives notes that the “Convention on the Rights and Duties of States,” has shaped conventional notions of what defines a “State.” With sea level rise, there is historical and legal precedent for looking past this Convention. International instruments recognize that States created under international law possess an unalienable right to take measures to remain a state. Therefore, other theories of statehood, such as international recognition, should be part of any future statehood analysis arising from sea-level issues. This forecast requires solidarity and empathy, as well as advanced legal planning. It requires solidarity and action today, and not 10 years, 20 years or 30 years down the road. The cost of inaction now is a gamble that my country cannot afford to take.
We would also like to address the issue of protecting persons affected by sea-level rise. Although there are existing frameworks that deal with the protection of persons affected by disasters, there is not an adequate framework to deal specifically with persons affected by sea-level rise. Those affected by sea-level rise have specific needs that are unique from the challenges customarily associated with conventional disasters. The Maldives would like to highlight that climate change is not a natural disaster, but a human-induced one. Therefore, this topic is intrinsically related to transboundary harm and international accountability.
The effects of climate change disproportionately affect the most vulnerable sectors of the world’s population. Women, children, seniors, persons with disabilities, among other groups, are all particularly exposed to the threat of sea-level rise. In light of the international law instruments that relate to vulnerable populations, the Maldives argues that there ought to be an intersectional approach to the debate and that this approach is essential.
We have the power and the capacity to protect and promote the health of our Ocean. We must take collective action and continue to work towards regulating the large swaths of the deep blue ocean waters, which are currently ungoverned. The Maldives welcomes the convening of the Fifth meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. This fifth meeting is a significant milestone in ocean governance because it represents the culmination of decades of groundwork. The Maldives has engaged constructively in these discussions with the objective of finalizing the instrument as soon as possible, and we are confident in the conference and its ability to reach that goal. Like in other instruments under UNCLOS, we wish to reiterate the importance of having the special circumstances of SIDS reflected in this Instrument.
As the need for an Ocean Monitoring System has made clear, our work in oceans and law of the sea is only as good as the best available science. In this regard, it is crucial to promote research as well as facilitate capacity building and the transfer of marine technology for developing countries. We need to be able to effectively engage and supplement our going efforts. The Maldives has been a strong advocate of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, from 2021-2030. We take note of the progress that has been made in engaging stakeholders to formulate the plan, such as the recently concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, and encourage all Member States to engage constructively in tailoring a framework, which will deliver country driven results.
The world’s Ocean literally connect us together and sustain life, as we know it. From the top of the Himalayas to the sandy beaches of the Maldives just above the sea, our future is inextricably bound to the health of the global marine environment. I ask everyone to join us in protecting this valuable intergenerational resource.
I thank you.