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Submarine Telecommunication Cables and a Biodiversity Agreement in ABNJ: Finding New Routes for Cooperation

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image of The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law

In 2016, countries began meeting at the United Nations (UN) to prepare for negotiations to develop an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). How the instrument will relate to submarine cables, if at all, remains to be decided. The preparatory committee will address a “package” of issues, among them the application of area-based management tools, including marine protected areas (MPAs) and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to activities in ABNJ. EIAs and MPAs already affect submarine cable operations in national jurisdictions. In ABNJ, a new instrument should formalize a cooperative framework with the cable industry to provide limited environmental management where necessary without over-burdening cable operations. This approach would be consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and could also inform governance with respect to other activities likely to be benign in ABNJ.

Affiliations: 1: The Pew Charitable Trusts Washington, dcUS

* J.D., New York University School of Law, 2008. I am particularly grateful to Doug Burnett, Kristina Gjerde, and Thorsten Thiele for their guidance, encouragement, and feedback, without which this article would not have been possible, to Nigel Irvine and Michael Costin for their technical expertise, to David Freestone and Philomene Verlaan for their thoughtful edits and comments, and to my wife and father for their patient editing as well—they have learned more about submarine cables than they ever wanted to know. I am also indebted to the International Cable Protection Committee for making available the scholarship which motivated me to write this article and attend the Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy in 2015. The views expressed herein are entirely my own and do not reflect those of any institutions or organizations with which I am affiliated. Any errors or omissions are likewise my own.

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