Opening Remarks for Pacific Community Deputy Director Dr Audrey Aumua
Maritime Boundaries and Climate Change Workshop
University of Sydney - Sydney, Australia
11 February 2019
Ms Sara Goldsworthy, Assistant Secretary of the Pacific Security, Maritime and Climate Change Branch
Members of the panel: Filimon Manoni, International Legal Adviser, Pacific Forum Secretariat, Landisang Kotaro, Senior Legal Researcher, House of Delegates, Palau National Congress, Palau
Representatives of Pacific Island Governments
Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific
Colleagues and Friends
It is a privilege to address you this morning. This is such a critical issue and a critical moment for our region, so I am really encouraged that we can all be here today to learn more, discuss, and begin to map a way forward to settle all of our region’s maritime boundaries and advocate for boundary security.
Pacific Islanders are the custodians of almost 28 million square kilometres of oceanscape. This makes up 20 percent of the world’s exclusive economic zones or EEZs, but many of these zones have not been technically defined and published. For Pacific Island countries and territories, maritime boundaries are our national borders. They are not a distant and theoretical line in the ocean- they delineate our homes and our responsibilities. They strengthen law enforcement, support fisheries and natural resource management, and are critical for Pacific islands’ governance, economic growth, and regional security.
Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), all coastal States are entitled to a marine jurisdiction defined by maritime boundaries. Where countries’ maritime zones overlap, they need to negotiate a shared boundary.
Establishing maritime boundaries can be a lengthy process. A country must undertake
technical work-- surveying and mapping,
legal work--the drafting and review of law,
and political work-- advocacy, negotiations, and treaty-making-- before they can submit their final boundaries to the United Nations and publish the information, officially.
These boundaries perform a critical role in the economic development of Pacific Island States today. Key industries and sectors including fisheries, tourism, and transportation all rely upon maritime boundaries. For example, fishing licenses generated $397 million USD in revenue for the eight Pacific states that are Parties to the Nauru Agreement in 2015.
These ocean-reliant industries and activities contribute to a global Blue Economy. Pacific Islands have relatively small economies, but we have tremendous potential to contribute to the Blue Economy.
Once maritime boundaries are clearly established, countries can capitalise on their rights to enforce fishing limits, to develop offshore windfarms, to investigate marine genetic resources that could contribute to a cure for cancer, to explore deep-sea minerals, or to establish marine protected areas. Ocean space is not empty space. The ocean is brimming with opportunities for Pacific Islands.
And yet, we recognise that these opportunities are threatened by climate change and its impacts. The best available science from the IPCC tells us that a 1.5 degree Earth is inevitable. Our children’s children, the generation born today, are predicted to see global sea-level rise almost a metre higher than today. In the Western Pacific, sea levels are rising three time faster than the global average.
The coastal features that define maritime boundaries- low-elevation islands, atolls, sand bars, rocks, and reefs- are vulnerable to environmental changes. The drivers of change include not only sea-level rise, but also erosion, ocean acidification, extreme weather events, habitat loss, and decreasing biodiversity. All of these compounding impacts may lead to the disappearance of critical maritime boundaries basepoints and features. Settling maritime boundaries is therefore an urgent action to ensure that compounding stresses do not result in reduced jurisdiction of Pacific Island States.
Since 1974, the region has been working to determine maritime boundaries and the Pacific Community (SPC) has been supporting that effort since 2001. We have been joined by 10 other partners in our consortium approach. Our technical teams have worked alongside local surveyors, venturing to remote islands for weeks at a time to determine accurate positions of rocky outcrops and key basepoints. Andrick Lal [stand up Andrick] has been a proud member of SPC and SOPAC before that, and for almost two decades, he’s travelled from island groups to atolls to reef rocks to assist you in mapping your nations.
The team has assisted countries in the technical mapping and delimitation of boundaries based on these basepoints. They have coordinated a range of capacity building activities including regional working sessions, workplace attachments, in-country workshops, placements, legal drafting, political advocacy, and negotiations.
To date, the consortium have supported the delimitation of 19 shared boundaries in the Pacific region. Of the 48 boundaries in the Pacific Islands, only 13 now remain to be delimited and declared. This rate of progress is unprecedented elsewhere in the world. It underscores the strength of relationships between countries and partners as well as the commitment of all parties to progress this critical work.
But we still have work to do. The technical teams have advanced their work, and most have computed and prepared their boundaries. Now the legal and political processes must drive the effort to settle the region’s remaining boundaries. This priority has been highlighted at the highest level at the last Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting in Nauru, and in the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape.
Finally, let us not forget that whilst the settlement of maritime boundaries is an urgent action for the region, UNCLOS is unclear about the status of maritime zone rights in the face of climate change. Since maritime zones are defined by land features, changes to those features may ultimately reduce the size of our EEZs if we do not fight for our rights to our ocean space.
This means that even once maritime boundaries are submitted and published, they could be disputed or altered. Now the key question is: What legal, traditional, political and technical solutions can we deploy to maintain our rights to our EEZs in the face of rising sea level? That is for this meeting to determine.
I am heartened that the capable minds here and will contribute to the plan to progress maritime boundaries and to advocate for the rights and livelihoods of Pacific people. Along with our long-standing partners in the Australian Government, the Government of New Zealand, the CROP agencies, the University of Sydney, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and GRID-Arendal, I have confidence that with the technical knowhow, the legal wits, and the political will, we will achieve our goals.
After all, as the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape states, there are “no people on earth more suited to be guardians of the world’ largest ocean than those for whom it has been home for generations.” Let us all work to ensure that it will remain our home for generations to come.