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Oceans Governance in the Arctic

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image of The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law

Global warming is bringing rapid change to the Arctic. The melting of sea ice and glaciers is increasing faster than scientists predicted even a year ago. Environmental change is forcing legal and economic developments, which in turn will have serious environmental and social consequences. However, the potential for conflict has been greatly exaggerated. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) has established the international legal regime governing the division of ocean space, sovereign rights over ocean resources, protection of the marine environment and the conduct of activities in and under the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, a number of global environmental and maritime conventions apply to the Arctic. All the land territory, with its resources, is subject to national jurisdiction, as are the maritime zones proceeding seawards to the limits set out in the LOSC. While there is no multilateral political organisation with the power to regulate activities or to take legally binding decisions, there is a cooperative mechanism in the Arctic Council. Once all the maritime boundaries in the Arctic are delimited, the exploitation of resources can begin. However, first, precautionary measures should be adopted to ensure that the environment is protected as much as possible from increases in shipping and fishing as well as oil and gas development. This would require the elaboration of a regional seas agreement for the Arctic, incorporating elements of the Arctic Council, that reiterates the general principles in Part XII of the LOSC as well as those in the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, including the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach.

Affiliations: 1: Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich


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