United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Sri Lanka

His Excellency the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
to the
United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for
Sustainable Development
United Nations, New York
5th June 2017
Mr. President- Mr. Secretary General
Allow me to express my appreciation to those who have been responsible for organizing this
conference - notably Mr. Peter Thomson - President of the General Assembly, the
Governments of Fiji and Sweden - co-hosts of the Conference, the Permanent
Representatives of Portugal and Singapore - facilitators of preparatory meetings and to the
Secretary General of the Conference.
This assembly is part of a historic process - The collective international efforts to define and
correct the depredations of humankind on the Planet Earth. It is a relatively recent effort,
beginning with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and
the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. Since then we have made much progress in recognizing
the environment and its protection as the responsibility of all nations. We have largely
accepted the connection between ecological management and the human condition. We have
had many conferences, created many institutions. Public awareness and concern about the
environment is wider than at any time in history. Yet with all these developments, we have
still a long way to go to reach the optimum level of global environmental sustainability.
This is why the work and outcome of this conference is so important. The oceans constitute
about 70 percent of the earth's surface and contain 97 percent of the earth's water. If we do
not make more progress on the oceans, the seas and maritime resources, all our other
environment efforts will be difficult, if not impossible to achieve. In many ways then, this
has vital significance for the future of humankind. The condition of the oceans, so well
described in the concept papers and the discussions of delegates, enhance the urgency of our
As we proceed with our deliberations, there is an area which my government believes needs
more attention. This is the organization of funding sources. For commitments to become
reality requires not only sustainable programmes but also sustainable financing. Alongside
corrective measures and technical developments, we need to create a sustainable ocean
economy, new blue -industries including off-shore renewables, marine technologies, aqua
cultures, clean-up and transition activities. Government financing and philanthropic support
will probably be insufficient and we will have to encourage creative private public
partnerships and other means to unlock commercial capital. These are ways in which we can
mobilize new stakeholders and collaborators whose support will help ensure broader
constituency for our endeavors.
The outcome of this conference and several like gatherings scheduled in the near future also
must link to parallel concerns - notably the institutional legal framework contained in
UNCLOS and its implementing agreements and institutions. My government and I personally
have urged the adoption of measures related to the freedom of navigation in the Indian
Ocean. We strongly believe that such measures will help to initiate a zone of economic
progress that can eventually embrace larger ocean areas and will provide the stability that
accelerates rapid environment improvement. Environmental interconnectivity can provide an
opportunity for peacekeeping, peacemaking and development that will bring multiple
benefits to several regions in and around South and Southeast Asia and the Eastern Pacific
Mr. President,
Island nations like my own, are particularly vulnerable to the impact of ocean environments
and climate change. In the past decade or so, Sri Lanka has been devastated by nature driven
tragedies. Floods, landslides, the massive Tsunami of 2004 and other disasters have wrecked
my country. Right now, as I speak, we are inundated with savage floods causing hundreds of
deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Human misery is unbelievable. We
are grateful to the international community, the United Nations and its agencies and the
Secretary General, and so many generous contributions of assistance. But, all this underlines
how helpless we are in the face of environmentally sourced disasters.
For nations like my own, the oceans are life and death. The Indian Ocean, in which we are
located, provides employment, food, avenues of trade and commerce. Our large coastal
communities survive at ocean level. For us, rise of the seas, pollution of the oceans, depletion
of fish, good coastal eco systems are not abstractions - they are the core of our existence.
Parenthetically, I might mention that the Indian Ocean around us now has the second largest
accumulation of floating plastic waste in the world. Cleansing the oceans, assuring maritime
sustainability is our future - and we increasingly ask: What is our future unless this is done?
We are deeply conscious that our fate is not in our hands alone. This is especially why we are
so supportive of international environment actions. We strongly endorse the Paris Climate
Agreement; we affirm our commitment to the F AO International Plan of Action and are
implementing the Sri Lanka National Plan of Action on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated
Fishing. We consistently stand behind every significant international environmental
agreement, especially the Sustainable Development goals and the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change. It is our hope that the collective interest embodied in these
instruments will be the basis for a new consensus.
Mr. President
I come from a culture, a country where our philosophic heritage cherished the sanctity of the
environment. The Lord Buddha, widely venerated in our part of the world, enjoined people to
preserve it for prosperity. The passage of time, the exigencies of modernization and the
separation of individuals from their natural habitat have undercut that message. But the
wisdom of such sage advice, which nurtured our ancestors, is now starkly evident. And
conferences such as this, remind us that we must reclaim our heritage or perish.
Mr. President,
For 72 years, the United Nations has worked, with varying degrees of success, on the global
agenda as it has evolved. The here and now, the immediacies of the world, largely engage the
attention of the UN. Although it tries, there is understandably not much space available to
focus on the future. But surely, part of our task is also to shape Planet Earth so that we will
leave a heritage that generations to come will welcome.
Our efforts in the environmental area fulfill that obligation. That is why I strongly endorse
the objectives of this Conference and hope that your deliberations will create practical,
prompt and inclusive results. Today's urgencies and our legacy for the future demand no less.
Thank You