Annex 4: Aotearoa New Zealand’s international obligations

Aotearoa New Zealand is party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) which provides the definitive legal order for the oceans under international law. UNCLOS enshrines freedoms of navigation and overflight, establishes maritime zones delimiting States’ jurisdiction (including resource rights), and provides for protection and preservation of the marine environment, including living and non-living resources.

Aotearoa New Zealand has full sovereignty over its territorial sea, as well as the airspace and seabed and subsoil below. Within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) Aotearoa New Zealand has rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources in that zone, including the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. Aotearoa New Zealand also has rights related to the construction and use of installations and structures in its EEZ and on its continental shelf, and has jurisdiction over submarine cables and pipelines constructed in connection with the use of natural resources. These rights are balanced against the rights of other states in Aotearoa New Zealand’s EEZ, such as states’ rights to lay cables/pipelines and freedoms of navigation and overflight.

Aotearoa New Zealand also has a number of obligations under UNCLOS related to protecting and preserving the marine environment. This includes taking all measures to ensure activities under its jurisdiction do not cause pollution to the environment of other States, and adopting (and enforcing) laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution from installations and structures within its jurisdiction.

UNCLOS also contains obligations relating to the decommissioning of infrastructure, including to consider any generally accepted international standards such as those established by the International Maritime Organisation. Aotearoa New Zealand is also a party to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matters 1972 and its 1996 Protocol (the London Protocol) which stress the need to protect the marine environment from all sources of pollution, and prohibit dumping of waste at sea unless expressly permitted.

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