Each day during the month of April, the Institute will feature one of the 30 ‘perspectives’ from the One Ocean report. These short articles include a diverse range of views regarding oceans management in New Zealand. Enjoy!


Colin Keating, Former Ambassador to the United Nations and UNCLOS negotiator

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

In 1996 I had the honour of presenting to the UN New Zealand’s ratification of UNCLOS. That convention allowed New Zealand to extend its jurisdiction into the ocean for 200 miles and beyond and to gain control over ocean resources worth billions of dollars.

Additionally, UNCLOS established rules for drawing boundaries in the oceans – a source of conflict between states for generations. Environmental protection and sustainable fishing rules were agreed, and access to the sea-lanes that are critical for our exports was legally protected.

When UNCLOS came into force in 1994, it was during a time of optimism at the end of the Cold War. The same year, the World Trade Organisation negotiations were concluded, bringing a similar innovative framework of rules to international trade.

Twenty years later the optimism has faded. The WTO is deadlocked. The US Senate has blocked ratification of many multilateral treaties, including UNCLOS. Non-state actors, including flag-of-convenience fishing pirates, are finding loopholes in UNCLOS and other treaties. The global environment is also increasingly uncertain. On land in Crimea, in the South China Sea and with the renewed use of vetoes in the Security Council, nationalism, exceptionalism and power seem to be undermining the great law-making treaties of the last 60 years.

It is too soon to say that what New Zealand has gained from UNCLOS is now at risk. But the warning signs are clear. We are in a period of history where the small need to be very nimble and resourceful. We will indeed be at risk if we fail to reinvest in our diplomatic, scientific and defence force capabilities.

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