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Ocean governance catalyst - Edward Zammit Lewis

All activities on our oceans are interconnected, as is their impact on resources, marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Photo: Shutterstock

All activities on our oceans are interconnected, as is their impact on resources, marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Photo: Shutterstock

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was the keynote speaker at a symposium organised by the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo on July 30.

The theme of the speech, ‘Protecting our oceans for present and future generations’, strikes a familiar note. It recalls Malta’s recurring initiatives and its appeals at the United Nations and other international fora for multilateral management of our seas and oceans for the benefit of all humanity.

Malta’s new initiative at the United Nations, described in detail by the Prime Minister, is that the General Assembly should request the Secretary General to consider the establishment of an appropriate mechanism or panel which could coordinate the work on ocean governance being undertaken by organs both within and outside the United Nations.

The new mechanism would make recommendations to the General Assembly on the formulation of a global strategy to ensure a holistic approach towards ocean space in the spirit of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Malta’s history, culture, economy and the well-being of its inhabitants have all been greatly influenced by the sea. Successive governments since Independence have concentrated their efforts to ensure that our seas remain safe, secure, healthy and productive. Malta’s foreign policy efforts remain focused on sea-related matters and geared towards the further development of international ocean governance.

During the last five decades, Malta’s commitment to the protection of the world’s oceans has reached an international dimension and a high profile among the international community. Its 1967 proposal on the law of the sea called upon the international community to declare that the seabed and subsoil, together with their resources, beyond national jurisdiction, were the common heritage of humankind, and to establish a new legal order for the oceans designed to ensure sustainable and effective ocean governance.

The proposal Malta made was for the creation of an authority that would exploit these resources on behalf of mankind and channel the profits into the economies of developing countries.

The entry into force of UNCLOS led to the establishment of the International Seabed Authority, whose headquarters are in Kingston, Jamaica, and to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which is in Hamburg. Malta’s leading maritime law expert, David Attard, is currently vice-president of this tribunal.

UNCLOS remains the framework treaty for ocean governance. It has since been complemented by several agreements codifying international rights and responsibilities, such as the agreement on the management of straddling and migratory fish stocks, and the agreement on access to minerals of the seabed beyond the continental shelf. In my opinion, however, much more needs to be done to address the major problems of ocean governance in the 21st century.

The most serious threats to oceans come from human activity. It is estimated that the world’s population will rise to 9.6 billion by 2050, resulting in more pollution and competition for resources.  Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is undermining the food security of many people, particularly in developing countries.

Pollution from industrial activity and more recently plastic pollution are causing irreparable and irreversible damage.  Marine experts believe that human activity and climate change are having a cumulative and profound impact on global ocean systems.

In addition to these most pressing ecological threats, ocean governanceis nowadays being tested by threats coming from powerful networks of international criminals.

Much more needs to be done to address the major problems of ocean governance in the 21st century

The re-emergence of piracy is threatening the stability and security of important sea lanes, disrupting navigation and commerce. Of more immediate concern to Malta, is the growing international illegal trade in human trafficking and irregular migration.

There is a shared perception among the international community that the current international ocean governance framework has gaps and shortcomings that are aggravated by increasing signs of ecological deterioration and an alarming occurrence of illegal and damaging activities.

All activities on our oceans are interconnected, as is their impact on resources, marine ecosystems and coastal communities. This complexity is not sufficiently addressed by the sectoral approaches and the fragmented response adopted so far.

Malta’s proposal for a mechanism that would ensure a holistic approach to the problems of ocean space, is perhaps the only alternative that the international community has for reversing the damage being cause by the lack of an effective ocean governance.

It will bring about a collaborative, sustainable and efficient ocean governance on a local and global scale.

Malta has recognised the importance of identifying and designating marine protected areas and has registered a voluntary commitment of 30 per cent of all the waters under Maltese jurisdiction.

Since 1976, Malta hosted the first Regional Oil-Combating Centre for the Mediterranean, which has now been replaced by the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean, whose objectives are to prevent and reduce pollution.

In 1988 the IMO and the government of Malta signed an agreement for the establishment in Malta of the International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI). Over the past 30 years IMLI has trained more than 900 lawyers from 140 countries in international maritime law.

Malta’s multilateral approach to ocean governance has not been limited to the United Nations; it also makes use of its membership of other international institutions, particularly the EU and the Commonwealth, to pursue its strategy for protecting our oceans and developing a blue economy.

Last October, Malta hosted the international marine conference ‘Ocean 2017’, which made a substantial contribution towards strengthening ocean governance. The participating states made over 400 tangible and measurable commitments and pledged €7.2 billion to save the oceans, besides declaring 2.5 million square kilometres additional marine protected areas.

As chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, Malta piloted the Blue Charter, adopted by Commonwealth leaders on April 28 this year. It represents a coordinated effort by the 53 Commonwealth member states to protect the oceans from climate change, pollution and over-fishing.

This excellent initiative at an international level is undoubtedly the result of the dynamism and vision of the Labour government’s foreign policy under the leadership of Muscat.

An initiative for the good of Malta and above all for the good of mankind.

Edward Zammit Lewis is chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign and European Affairs.

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