Ocean is important for Tonga, PM tells UN

The Tonga Ocean 7 working group has been working around the clock in the last five years to prepare the Tonga Ocean Plan, in line with international commitments to managing our oceans. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS/FILE FOTO

Nuku’alofa – September 28, 2020: 11.20am (MEIDECC): The ocean and its marine environment is important for Tonga, Prime Minister Rev Dr Tu’i’onetoa told the General Debate at the Seventy-fifth Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, September 25.

He said Tonga continues to recognize the importance of the ocean-climate nexus, and further continues to note with grave concern the detrimental impacts of climate change on our marine environment.

“We endeavour to achieve SDG 14 through advancing our commitment to conserve and sustainably use the world’s ocean, seas and marine resources through measures taken to establish Special Management Areas (SMAs) initiatives, and the implementation of the Tonga Marine Spatial Planning Project,” he said.

“Government has approved the inclusion of a network of 30% Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the Kingdom. Tonga progresses well in relation to improved fisheries management and the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing to secure oceans contribution to food security and the well-being of the country’s economy.”

In the fight against plastic pollution, the Hon PM said it is worrisome for Tonga to note the alarming 12 million tonnes of plastic wastes that are leaked into our oceans annually.

As a pro-active step Tonga is beginning the process to ban single-use plastics.

But he added that the problem will require a global solution.

While countries around the world are enforcing lockdowns and restrictions in varying degrees in the fight against the COVID-19, it may not occur to many that the “ocean” plays a pivotal role in this context.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (or UNESCO), the bacteria used to detect the presence of COVID-19 is found in the depths of the ocean.

“We cannot overemphasize the urgency for action to protect and sustainably use the world’s ocean, seas and marine resources. However, actions can only be meaningful and effective if derived from science-based and innovative information and data,” the Hon PM said.

Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga supports the proclamation by the United Nations of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from 2021 – 2030 which provides an overarching framework that will allow ocean science to support countries in their sustainable development of the ocean.

He said Tonga maintains that the baselines which presently determine our territorial boundaries, once established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, should remain unchanged despite effects of sea level rise and any climate change modification that might ensue.

“Our Sovereignty must not be compromised to that effect and we continue to support the work of the International Law Commission in the Sixth Committee,,” Hon PM told the UN.

The much anticipated Fourth Session of the Inter-Governmental 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 has been postponed to March 2021, tentatively, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga look forward to participating in this very important process.

Whale watching and swimming have become key events of the local tourism industry, which is based on proper ocean management. Photo: FILE FOTO

“Tonga is greatly invested in engaging as a State Party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the International Seabed Authority and its continuing work on the draft exploitation regulations with other State Parties and stakeholders to ensure agreement on the appropriate balance between the need to conserve, protect and replenish the environment, and to mine the seabed for minerals that will contribute to the sustainable development of Tonga as a Small Island Developing State in the Pacific,” he added.

Meanwhile, in his Tonga Country Report the Hon PM said that Tonga is pleased to have ratified and become a State Party to the three conventions this year.

These were the: (1) the United Nations Convention against Corruption; (2) the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards; and (3) the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

“Following Tonga’s presentation of its first national review at the High-Level Political Forum in July 2019, it made good progress in the implementation of its SDG targets, however, the intervening devastating impacts of the COVID-19 have impeded progress going forward. These have intensified the vulnerabilities of our country and affected the implementation of some of Tonga’s national outcomes under the Strategic Development Framework, which are ultimately linked to the achievement of the priority areas of the SAMOA Pathway and our SDG targets,” he said.

“Tonga is committed to engaging with the High-Level Political Forum which remains an integral platform, even more so, as we brace to embark on this much anticipated Decade of Action from 2021 – 2030, geared for accelerated solutions to achieve the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We acknowledge with gratitude the positive engagement of our Development Partners and all United Nations agencies including the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developing Countries (LDCs), LLDCs and Small Islands Developing Countries (SIDS); the World Health Organization (WHO); the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); the UNDP; the UN ESCAP; the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as, the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).”