Leaders Propose Oceans Goal, Highlight Biodiversity at UNGA 68 High-level Debate

United Nations1 October 2013: Leaders speaking at the 68th UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-level Debate highlighted, in their remarks regarding biodiversity, a call for a stand-alone oceans goal in the post-2015 agenda, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), sustainable fisheries management, as well as the importance of sustainable mountain development to conservation.

Pacific small island developing States (SIDS) supported an oceans goal as part of the post-2015 agenda. Emanuel Mori, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), called for an oceans goal on healthy, productive and resilient oceans. Describing itself as a “sea-locked nation,” Vete Sakaio, Deputy Prime Minister, Tuvalu, suggested that such a goal could address, inter alia, the increasing carbonization of oceans and their biodiversity and the spillover of land-based nuclear wastes. Christopher Loeak, President of the Marshall Islands, emphasized that an oceans goal could advance food security. Prince Albert II of Monaco also supported an oceans goal.

Tommy Remengesau, President of Palau, described several conservation initiatives: implementing the Micronesia Challenge; sponsoring the Pacific Islands Forum Invasive Species Advisory Group; pioneering the first shark sanctuary; and establishing the first comprehensive marine sanctuary, which will close its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to commercial fishing. He urged prohibiting shark fin soup.

As Chair of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), Manasseh Maelanga, Deputy Prime Minister, the Solomon Islands, outlined steps Pacific Island States are taking to develop their domestic fisheries industries and restructure distant water nations' fishing fleets in the region. Loeak said the region is simultaneously advancing sustainable fisheries and economic growth. Describing the ocean as “the next frontier” in sustainable development, Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, said Kiribati hoped to realize economic benefits from its fisheries resources through increased domestic processing. Mori stressed effective fisheries management, describing bycatch as a serious conservation problem and food security threat.

Maxine Pamela Ometa McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Barbados, supported post-2015 commitments on, inter alia, environmental sustainability, with an emphasis on coastal and marine resources. Winston Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said addressing air and ocean pollution, deforestation and land degradation, among other issues, were critical in achieving a successful agenda.

Several leaders addressed UNCLOS. Gunnar Sveinsson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iceland, described UNCLOS as a sound basis for resource management. Rui Machete, Minister of State, Portugal, supported discussion of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ). Costa Rica commended the UN Secretary-General's Oceans for Prosperity compact and supported an international agreement on the governance of high seas under UNCLOS. Josaia Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, called for a commitment to facilitate sustainable oceans management of ocean resources and equitable share of benefits from their utilization.

Among other biodiversity comments, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, President of Mongolia, recommended environmental education and public participation to address environmental challenges, including deforestation, land degradation, natural disasters and pollution. Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho, and Erlan Abdyldayev, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kyrgyzstan, called for sustainable mountain conservation and development, with Abdyldayev emphasizing that mountain ranges provide snow leopard habitat and ensure ecosystem services. Ali Ondimba, President of Gabon, said poaching and illegal wildlife trade, particularly among elephants and rhinos, threatens biodiversity. [Debate Statements]