The UN chief has said the adoption by most nations of the world of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 40 years ago is more relevant than ever as the oceans are now in dire straits.
Speaking at a major General Assembly meeting marking the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention Thursday, António Guterres highlighted the breadth of the accord, spanning from "the air we breathe, to the atmosphere that sustains all life, to the ocean-based industries that employ some 40 million people, to the species that call the ocean home."
Among the key provisions of the Convention are the conservation of the world's fisheries, marine protection, the right to resources within 200 nautical miles of national shorelines, and of increasing importance, the sustainable and equitable management of mineral-related activities in international waters.
Guterres said around 35 percent of the world's fisheries are simply being overexploited. "Sea levels are rising as the climate crisis continues, and the ocean is acidifying and choked with pollution."
Coral reefs are bleaching, "epic floods" threaten coastal cities everywhere, and too often, "people working in ocean-based industries are not accessing the support or safe working conditions they need and deserve."
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The UN chief said the recently adopted Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies needed to be adopted swiftly, ensuring that all policies towards the ocean are "underpinned by the best science and the best economic and social expertise."
He said it meant bringing the wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local communities into the Convention, ending what he called the plastic pollution crisis, and concluding next year the agreement on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national borders.
The governments should develop laws and policies that put protection and conservation first, while marine industries and investors, should make conservation, protection and climate resilience a top priority, along with worker safety, the UN chief added.
Csaba Kőrösi, president of the General Assembly, said the Convention was known by many as the constitution of the oceans.
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"The fact that UNCLOS is just as relevant as ever is a true UN success story. This document can serve as an excellent example of what can be achieved when multilateralism is done right. What global governance can and should look like," he added.