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The irreplaceable role of the United Nations in global ocean governance

2021-11-11 17:24:52       source:Global Times

November 8, 2021

The world today is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. With the increasing common challenges facing the international community, the call for improving global governance is getting louder. Ocean governance is an integral part of global governance, and the United Nations plays an important role in the approach. Compared with other international organizations or multilateral mechanisms, the United Nations has higher authority, universality, and representativeness, with a greater voice in the field of international public opinion and a longer history and richer experience in participating in global governance.


From the perspective of rule construction, the legal system of global ocean governance has been gradually established and improved under the leadership of the United Nations. In the second half of the 20th century, the United Nations convened three conferences on the law of the sea and adopted the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the Convention on the High Seas, the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources, the Continental Shelf Convention, and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. ". This has established a basic legal framework for the global ocean governance system.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea currently has 168 contracting parties and is one of the most widely accepted universal international treaties. In the 1990s, the United Nations also successively adopted the "Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention" and the " The United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement". In the field of exploration and development of marine minerals in the international seabed area, the International Seabed Authority has promulgated rules and regulations such as the Mining Code to ensure that the marine environment is not damaged by regional mining activities.


At present, the United Nations is leading the intergovernmental negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. This negotiation involves many issues in the field of global marine resource development and environmental management, such as the allocation of marine genetic resources, environmental impact assessment, and high seas marine protected areas. These issues are not only the frontiers of ocean governance, but also an important agenda for global governance.


From the perspective of idea advocacy, the United Nations has contributed to the development of global ocean governance from an abstract theory to an idea that can influence the ocean policies of various countries in just a few decades. It has played an active guiding role in promoting cooperation between government agencies, civil organizations, the scientific community and other stakeholders in ocean governance.


Since the 1970s, under the leadership of the United Nations, landmark international conferences such as the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the Johannesburg Earth Summit have set off a global upsurge of attention to ocean governance and effectively promoted the international community. Transform sustainable development commitments into governance actions gradually.


In 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals for 2030, of which the 14th goal is to "protect and sustainably use the oceans and marine resources to promote sustainable development." The United Nations Ocean Conference, established in 2017, further promoted the implementation of the sustainable development goals related to the oceans and opened a new chapter for the international community to participate in global ocean governance.


From the perspective of mechanism construction, the United Nations has established a series of maritime institutions such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the Department of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the United Nations Environment Programme. It provides institutional guarantees for countries to improve their ocean governance capabilities. The UN General Assembly has also established an "open-ended informal consultation process" on ocean affairs and the law of the sea, specifically discussing priorities and key issues in global ocean governance and promoting coordination and cooperation among nations.


Under the framework of the United Nations, the international community has also formed many regional marine governance arrangements, regional fisheries institutions, and marine ecological environment conservation mechanisms. The United Nations has also initiated a series of marine governance projects, plans, and initiatives in the fields of blue economy, biological resource conservation, marine environmental protection, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine science and technology, etc., which play an important role in solving marine governance issues in developing countries. Played an important role.


At present, global ocean governance has entered a new stage of structural adjustment and order reform. Although the traditional maritime power’s monopoly on international ocean governance has collapsed, hegemonism and power politics still exist, and the imbalance in ocean governance capabilities between developed and developing countries is increasing. There are still some ambiguities in the global ocean governance system. Although the creation of a legal system in frontier maritime fields has started, the prospects and effects remain to be seen. For nearly two decades, the international community has some different understandings such as "openness and cooperation", "isolationism and conservatism" and "interventionism" on the global ocean governance issues, which indicates that he global ocean governance is given more meaning in the context of geopolitics. In this context, how to accelerate the convergence of the governance consensus of the international community and strengthen the core role of the United Nations in global ocean governance becomes particularly important and urgent.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the People’s Republic of China’s legitimate seat in the United Nations. Over the past 50 years, China has actively and fully integrated into the maritime governance mechanism under the United Nations framework, deeply participated in major international maritime legislative processes led by the United Nations, supported relevant UN agencies in performing their duties in accordance with international law and their own charter and regulations, and promoted the continuous improvement of the global maritime governance system. There are many enlightenments that can be summarized through these successful national practices, but the most critical point is this concept: "The United Nations is the core mechanism for maintaining and practicing true multilateralism and the main platform for global governance, which means that states must uphold the principles and the spirit of multilateralism. The real multilateralism is not about which country or group has priority, nor does it draw lines between states with ideology, nor does it take irresponsible unilateral actions under the banner of multilateralism".


The author is deputy director and associate research fellow of the Research Center for Ocean Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.