Kerry Calls for 'Global Understanding,' U.N. Enforcement to Protect the Oceans

February 25, 2014 - 8:04 PM

ocean

Secretary of State John Kerry says overfishing, pollution and climate change are the three greatest threats to the planet’s oceans. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support Tuesday for “a global structure” within the United Nations to enforce regulations on how the oceans are managed and protected.

After addressing the World Ocean Summit in California by video link, Kerry was asked by an event moderator for his views on calls for “a world oceans organization of some sort at the United Nations.”

“Of course we need a global framework of some kind by which people sign up and agree to cooperate,” Kerry replied. “But we not only need the rules, we need the regulatory enforcement process.”

“I absolutely endorse the notion, as does President Obama, that we need some kind of global understanding about how we will enforce – and what – how we will enforce regulations and what rules we will put in place in order to preserve our fisheries and manage our coastlines and do the things necessary to reduce the pollution and preserve these ecosystems. It is going to take some kind of global understanding,” he said.

“I know people resist and hate the idea,” Kerry continued. “They think: ‘Wait a minute. We have our commercial economic zone, our extended economic zone. Each country wants to exercise its own sovereignty.’ But that’s not the way the ocean works, and that’s not the way migratory species behave.

“We’re all connected to these and we have to find a global structure,” he added. “I think the United Nations is the obvious one within which to try to arrive at an understanding of how we’re going to preserve this.”

Kerry was also asked about the ongoing effort to ratify the U.N. Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which due to Republican opposition has been awaiting Senate ratification since 1982.

“I wanted very much to try to ratify the Law of the Sea when I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and I’d love to ratify it now,” he said.

“But we’re having difficulty with this Senate in even being able to ratify a disabilities treaty that doesn’t require the United States to do anything, but helps other countries raise the standards for people with disabilities. So you can understand the difficulties of what we have in terms of the ratification process.

“But we are committed to living by the Law of the Sea even though it isn’t ratified, and we will do everything in our power to live by the standards of the Law of the Sea.”

UNCLOS recognizes a 200 nautical mile-wide exclusive economic zone lying beyond each country’s 12 nautical mile-wide territorial waters.

The treaty’s opponents argue among other things argue that the treaty will subject American sovereignty to an international body – an International Seabed Authority with its own dispute-resolution tribunal – and entail cumbersome environmental regulations.

Proponents, who include the military establishment and business interests, say ratifying UNCLOS would enable the U.S. to protect its rights to exploit marine resources, without interference from other nations.

In his address to the World Ocean Summit, an event hosted by The Economist in association with the National Geographic Society, Kerry named overfishing, pollution and climate change as the three key threats to the oceans.

He said the oceans need to be protected for environmental reasons, for economic reasons – “fisheries alone support a $500 billion global economy and the livelihoods of almost a billion people around the world” – and for reasons of food security.

“More than one billion people worldwide depend on fish as their primary source of protein,” he said. “And most of these people live in the poorest, least developed countries, where other protein options are either too limited or too expensive for the average family to buy.”

Kerry used the opportunity to announce that he plans to host a two-day international oceans conference in Washington in the summer.