Forum Leaders Sea Level Rise Declaration Keeps Faith With UNCLOS- Oceans Commissioner Puna At France Ocean/Planet Summit


Pacific Oceans Commissioner, Forum SG Henry Puna

 France One Ocean Summit, High Level Plenary Session, Friday 11th Feb, 2022



Mr. President, thank you so much for organizing this wonderful meeting. It’s good to see and to hear so much experience and wisdom resonating in this room today. And we look forward to very productive oceans here this year 2022.
Can I please be allowed to convey our deepest sympathy and condolences to the government and people of Tonga, who are currently experiencing the devastating aftermath of the Hunga-Tonga volcanic eruption, and the ensuing tsunami. I also wish to thank all friends and partners who have supported Tonga so much during this critical time. May we continue to uphold them in our thoughts, and in our prayers.

Excellencies, the Pacific Ocean and the large oceanic states that make up the blue Pacific, are strategically important today. Collectively, occupying EEZs of over 48 million square kilometers and occupying the vast ocean expanse, between Asia to the west, and the Americas to the east. Recently, geopolitical positioning in the Pacific has increased, with major powers developing strategies for the approach to the Pacific. This is not surprising, because we have a very valuable asset, and that is our ocean. But we have always asserted our guardianship and stewardship of our ocean and have always affirmed that we are not small islands, but rather than we are large oceanic states, with enormous potential because of our ocean, our most valuable strategic asset.

Excellencies. our leaders and our people take responsibility for our oceans seriously. Indeed, SDG 14 was a Pacific initiative. Our proud history of collective management of our ocean resources, such as tuna, has ensured the sustainability of our fishery. We have made many ocean commitments, including ambitious National Ocean policies, such as Palau’s Sanctuary, Papua New Guinea’s national oceans policy and the Cook Islands Marae Moana initiative. Just speaking briefly on the last one, Marae Moana in, in our language means sacred ocean. That is how we respect the ocean. Because we see it as part of us. We see it as defining our identity and our culture. We see caring for the ocean and its resources as not just our moral duty. We also see it as our obligation under international law. Further, we submit that for ocean governance to be fully effective, all states must play their part and ensure that they abide by international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The nature of the ocean implies that any action in your own waters can and will have trans-boundary impacts on other countries waters, as well as to our global commons. That is why the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum are supporting an ambitious BBNJ Treaty, which we hope will come into effect this year.

Excellencies, for us in the Pacific the single greatest threat to our livelihoods, our security, well-being and indeed of the whole world, is climate change. One of its negative impacts for us is rising sea levels, which is already being felt in our region. Sadly, the relationship between climate change related sea level rise and maritime zones was not an issue that was specifically contemplated by the drafters of UNCLOS, but which is of real concern to all of us now, especially the small island developing states and the low-lying states. We want to ensure our legal entitlements as sovereign nations are not lost nor challenged due to sea level rise. In August 2021, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum, our leaders adopted the Declaration on preserving maritime zones in the face of climate change related sea level rise. And I have the honour today to present that to you. Our declaration is not just another climate change related declaration. Oh no. It is a carefully drafted, targeted document that addresses a specific issue–the relationship between sea level rise brought about by climate change, and maritime zones. The declaration represents our formal, collective view on how UNCLOS rules on maritime zones apply in the situation of climate change-related sea level rise. It secures our people, maintains peace and security, and upholds our long-standing commitment to UNCLOS. Preserving maritime zones in the manner set out in the declaration is essential and fundamental to ensuring a fair and equitable international response to climate change-related sea level rise.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the declaration is rooted in the underpinning legal principles of UNCLOS, in particular those of stability, security, certainty and predictability. In essence, we are saying that whether or not sea level is rising, once maritime boundaries are set and deposited with the UN Secretary General, they should not and should never be altered. While the issue is of fundamental importance to our blue Pacific continent, other countries, we submit, similarly require stability, security, certainty and predictability of their maritime zones. On behalf of the blue Pacific, I offer our declaration as a considered, moderate and targeted solution to the issue of sea-level rise, and its possible legal effects on maritime zones through a good faith interpretation of UNCLOS.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, we call on your support for this declaration as one solution to an extremely dire consequence of climate change. In closing, and on behalf of the blue Pacific continent, I sincerely hope this declaration will be reflected as one of the endorsed commitments of this very important summit. I thank you.

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