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Archbishop Auza: ‘Imperative to Protect and Preserve Our Planet’

Twofold Nature of Our Mandate: Conservation and Sustainable Use

All peoples and governments have a common imperative to protect and preserve our planet, according to Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. He noted that commercial activity with regard to using the seas and marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction will likely increase exponentially in coming years.

His comments came April 16, 2018, during the Organizational Meeting for the Intergovernmental Conference on an International Legally Binding Instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, at the United Nations in New York.

There is a need to draft a legally-binding instrument with regard to them that balances human need and economic interests on the one hand with environmental protection and sustainable use on the other, the archbishop explained. He said that it’s important to have a clearer delineation among the meaning, purpose and commercial application of the terms “conversation” and “sustainable use,” as well as a more vigorous responsibilities-based approach with regard to States and commercial parties.

The archbishop’s statement:

Madam President,

The Holy See would like to congratulate you on your election as President of the intergovernmental conference concerning the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction and to express our pleasure to participate in this Organizational Meeting and engage constructively in the process for the preparation of the zero draft of the proposed international legally binding instrument.

The protection and preservation of our planet, by many means but also through the rule of law, is our common imperative. Commercial activity with respect to aquaculture, traditional and renewable energy sources, marine genetic resources, health and medicines, biotechnology, mining and transportation in “areas beyond national jurisdiction” is projected to increase exponentially in the coming years in response to population increases, economic growth, the augmentation of technological capabilities and scientific understanding, and physical access to new ocean space due to the melting of glaciers. We recognize how human needs affect this development; the challenge we must meet in drafting this new agreement is in balancing these needs and accompanying economic interests with environmental protection and sustainable use of those resources.

With this in mind, my Delegation would like to highlight two underlying twofold assumptions that will impact the organization of the process and the drafting of the document.

First, the twofold nature of our mandate: conservation and sustainable use. The term “conservation” usually means keeping the status quo or taking restorative measures to gain back what was lost environmentally; “sustainable use,” on the other hand, involves looking forward, engaging in activities in a way that allows the ongoing use of environmental resources by current and future generations. As a result, conservation measures involve a “taking away” of present uses and rights to achieve this restoration or status quo, while sustainable use involves decision-making in the “ordinary course of business” to allow a particular activity to go forward, in essence, granting rights rather than taking them away.

The existing legal framework, based mostly on a sustainable use model, has been structured according to a “silo” mentality, such that human activities are regulated on sectoral, regional and local bases; separate regulators are already in place, for example, for fishing, shipping, mining, and whaling. Therefore, the difference in the meaning, purpose and commercial application of these two terms “conservation” and “sustainable use,” and how we differentiate between them, will necessarily impact the process of our negotiations as well as any eventual text.

Second, there is the two-fold nature of the approach we will take, focusing not only on rights but on responsibilities. Thus far great attention has been placed on the rights of States, contracting parties and all stakeholders in our preparatory committee meetings, often motivated by economic considerations; this is no better seen than in the unbridgeable divide with respect to the application of the principle of the common heritage of mankind. There is a need, however, to include in our conversations a more vigorous “responsibilities-based approach,” consciously focusing on the various duties and obligations of States and commercial parties undertaking activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We consider equity between States, of course, in the analysis of benefit-sharing, capacity building, and technology transfer; the drafting process, however, could be improved by consciously using the lens of responsibilities rather than exclusively the rights of States in
determining solutions.

Topics that include environmental impact assessments and area-based management tools naturally create obligations. A “responsibilities-based approach” could offer more targeted provisions that address biodiversity threats and permeate the way that business is conducted and regulated. As a practical matter, most commercial enterprises are concerned with duties and obligations that influence the cost and method of doing business, and therefore enumeration of their duties helps to improve environmental, financial and governance certainty, which in turn facilitates surer investment. Business that is regulated well and enterprises that can show diligence with respect to regulations are more likely to be successful while achieving environmental goals at the same time. Economic, social, technological and environmental actions and goals will be better tied to one another when a “responsibilities-based approach” is included.

Madam President,

There is an unambiguous correlation between increased human activity and the declining health of the marine environment. Given this trend, the enormous geographic scope of the oceans, their interconnection, and the growing need for marine resources, the Holy See welcomes this collective action to improve the rule of law in order to provide better for the whole human family and assure the sustainability of our oceans, now and in the future.

Thank you, Madam President.

Copyright © 2018 Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, All rights reserved.

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