On Wednesday, February 10th, 2021, St. John’s Law Society’s ILSA hosted an event titled “Conversations with the Fijian Ambassador on Legal Issues Relating to Ocean Clean-up.” This event featured three speakers all whom provide insight on how the law of the sea operates, as well as the legal challenges that are faced by both national and international efforts to clean up oceans and coral reefs.
The virtual event enabled an in-depth conversation with His Excellency, Dr. Satyendra Prasad, Fiji's Ambassador to the United Nations, as he discussed the law of the sea and how it both helped and hindered ocean and coral reef clean-up efforts. Dr. Prasad spoke about UNCLOS, or as he called it “the United Nations Law of the Sea,” an agreement which is central to all discussions of oceans, the governance of oceans, and humanity as a whole. He encouraged students and the public to read up on the clause, formation, and the framing of this agreement – adding that Fiji was the first country to ratify UNCLOS. Further, he discussed the UNFCC, better known as the Paris Treaty, and its importance interacting with oceans and conservation protection.
Dr. Prasad spoke about the ocean’s importance to commerce, shipping, livelihood and the economy. He emphasized that “[w]e cannot continue to take the world, especially the ocean, for granted.” To his audience, he posed the question: With the growing human population and the subsequent exhaustion of resources to sustain populations, how do we prepare the oceans to feed and sustain this growing population?
Finally, Ambassador Prasad spoke about his experiences interacting with the law of the sea throughout Fiji's recent efforts to clean up coral reefs. Dr. Prasad emphasized that global warming is a serious issue that must be addressed immediately to avoid the world nearing its “tipping point.” He focused his attention in highlighting the impact this will have on food, oxygen, and the viability of communities and countries. Here, he shared that “[n]o one will insure [his] mother’s house in Fiji because of the rising sea levels and the reoccurring flooding.” Dr. Prasad concluded by stating that at the end of the day, society can talk about how we relocate communities and clean up the ocean, but society needs to take action and figure out ways that these action items can be implemented and financed.
The event also featured, Mark Nevitt, Associate Professor of Law at Syracuse, who shared more background on the law of the sea and the legal frameworks that both help and hinder these clean-up efforts. Mr. Nevitt spoke on many points addressed by Dr. Prasad emphasizing the importance of addressing “humanities oceans,” or the oceans beyond 200 miles where the water becomes global commons. He concluded by sharing his hope that the new United States presidential election will help facilitate better conversations and take tactical action against climate change.
Finally, St. John's law alumni Lisa Kurbiel, Head of the UN Joint SDG Fund Secretariat, also shared her experiences working with other small island developing states as they try to keep the oceans clean. Lisa Kurbiel shared the Joint SDG Fund’s response to climate change and provided three examples to demonstrate the vulnerability of SIDS around the world. Of these, Ms. Kurbiel expressed the Joint SDG Fund’s continued interest and action in aiding Papua New Guinea, Fiji & the coral reefs, and Barbados. For more information, check out the Joint SDG Finance page, Harnessing Blue Economy Finance for SIDS Recovery and Sustainable Development,https://jointsdgfund.org/programme/harnessing-blue-economy-finance-sids-recovery-and-sustainable-development.