A Decade in Review: oceans and law of the seas

24 June 2009 | News story

The tenth meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS or ICP) was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from the 17th to 19th June 2009. 

In its deliberations the delegations at the Consultative Process exchanged views on the implementation of the outcomes of ICP since its inception in 1999, including a review of its achievements and shortcomings; inter-agency cooperation and coordination; and identification of issues that could benefit from future work of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on oceans and the law of the sea.

It is widely considered that the ICP has been successful in providing a forum to facilitate an annual review of developments into ocean affairs within the General Assembly and to identify areas where coordination and cooperation can be enhanced.

"“In reality the ICP has accomplished a great deal,"” explains Dr. Harlan Cohen, IUCN’s Advisor on Ocean Governance. "“It has provided a forum to expose delegations to a broad range of ocean-related issues and to educate us on a variety of technical issues. However, these meetings have not always been without controversy,”" he reveals.

While ICP’s informal structure, its flexibility and access to expert knowledge has been welcomed, some countries were of the view that the process has lost its focus on sustainable development and its three pillars (social, economic and environmental), and in particular that the process has failed to address the social aspects of sustainable development, suggesting that the ICP must provide greater focus on capacity building, technology transfer and implementation.

As an informal consultative process, several delegates were of the view that it does not have the authority to serve as a negotiating body and thus should not pursue agreement on consensual elements. Some delegations objected to attempts through the IPC to interpret law.

"Despite these concerns, there was broad agreement on the utility of the forum as a place to exchange views on a variety of oceans topics," says Thomas Laughlin, Deputy Head of the Global Marine Programme.

Issues that could benefit from future work include many critical for healthy oceans and sustainable development, from fisheries management and food security to climate change and pollution.

The ICP has provided a forum for learning and exchange of ideas and experiences that would otherwise not be available. Just one example was on the numbers, extent, functioning and importance of microorganisms in the world’s oceans, including that these microorganisms may act as central catalysts to global element cycling. We look forward to continued opportunities within the ICP framework to learn and to work with others to promote sustainable development and the protection of our marine world,” concludes Cohen.