Keynote Address by His Excellency, Mr. David Kolitagane, Office of the High Commissioner of Fiji to the Commonwealth of Australia
Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Sydney, Australia – 9th December 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula Vinaka, it is indeed an honour to join you all this evening as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations of the Convention of the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS).
Today, we join the United Nations and its member states in celebrating the Convention on the Law of the Sea and its critical role as the Constitution of the oceans, laying down a comprehensive regime of law and order and establishing global rules governing the use of the oceans and their resources.
The Convention has a fundamental role in the promotion of peace, security, cooperation, and promoting a global regime on key issues such as maritime zones, navigational and passage rights, the protection of the marine environment, marine scientific research, and dispute settlement, amongst others.
Since its adoption, two additional instruments were concluded under the Convention: the 1994 Agreement on the implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement.
As we commemorate this anniversary, we must reflect on the achievements of UNCLOS, analyse the challenges and take stock of our progress in its implementation.
[SIGNIFICANCE OF UNCLOS FOR THE PACIFIC]
For the Pacific, the ocean is intrinsically tied to our identities and very existence, delicately woven through a Pacific tapestry of cultures, shared bonds and stewardship of some of the largest and richest ecosystems in the world.
The Convention has allowed the region to collectively secure our vast maritime zones; in total the Blue pacific enjoys our status as large ocean states with a combined EEZ of over 41 million square kilometres. Put into perspective, this is more than the land area of Russia, China, the US and the EU.
The Convention also affords us the opportunity to advance our political, economic and development aspirations and ensures that we can secure our rights and privileges in the use of our ocean space, and the conservation and sustainable management of our marine resources.
Today, the region faces challenges that test the relevance and scope of the Convention. Climate change-induced sea-level rise and its impacts on our maritime boundaries, Overfishing and illegal unregulated unreported (IUU) fishing, deep seabed mining and the exploitation of our vast Pacific Ocean for illegal activities, are challenges that the Pacific is grappling with.
We must work together to ensure that our collective rights and responsibilities enshrined under the Convention are implemented, for the security and safety of our peoples and our vast ocean space.
Through our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent which the Forum Leaders endorsed in July this year, the region has a collective vision, hope and ambition of the Pacific, with a unified message of resilience from a people united by the Blue Pacific and united in purpose.
With a central focus on Oceans, the 2050 strategy envisages a sustainable and peaceful Pacific that includes resource and economic development, resilience from climate change and disasters, sustainable environment, and timely access to technology and connectivity.
[SIGNIFICANCE FOR FIJI]
Today’s commemoration is also very significant for Fiji. Forty years ago, on 10th December 1982, Fiji was first country to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In recalling that historic day, I acknowledge the late Ambassador Satya Nandan, one of Fiji’s most prominent diplomats, who, with other seasoned diplomats, played an instrumental role in the drafting of the Convention.
I wish to reiterate Fiji’s continued commitment towards fulfilling our obligations under the Convention. Our on-going collaboration with development partners and our CROP agencies has complemented our efforts, thus far.
In saying this, I acknowledge the partners in the room today, the Australian Government, the Government of New Zealand, the Government of the United Kingdom, the EU and Sweden and of course the technical expertise from the Pacific Community (SPC).
The Convention on the Law of the Sea continues to serve us well in providing the basic foundation for Global Oceans Governance, and must remain our compass as we voyage towards the next 40 years.
I speak for the region, in saying that I am confident that the on-going negotiations for a third UNCLOS Treaty on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, or BBNJ, will be concluded soon.
I look forward to our continued collective collaboration and solidarity towards collectively addressing present and future challenges for the prosperity and wellbeing of the Blue Pacific.