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Protecting Polar Wilderness: Just a Western Philosophical Idea or a Useful Concept for Regulating Human Activities in the Polar Regions?

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AbstractThis article focuses on the question to what extent wilderness protection receives attention in the international governance systems for the Polar Regions (Arctic Council and Antarctic Treaty System). First, on the basis of a definition of the term ‘wilderness’, the role of law in protecting wilderness is discussed. Next, attention is focused on wilderness protection in the Arctic and Antarctic. It is concluded that the international governance systems pay very little attention to the preservation of the Polar Regions as the last relatively untouched wildernesses on earth. The applicability of various multilateral environmental agreements (particularly the Arctic) is not very helpful in this respect as wilderness protection does not receive substantial attention in these legal instruments either. In view of the broad acknowledgement of the wilderness values of the Polar Regions and the fast increase of commercial activities in these regions, the author urges stakeholders involved in the Arctic Council and the Antarctic Treaty System to open the debate on relevant questions: What are wilderness values in the context of the Polar Regions and when would these values be affected? For the Arctic, how could wilderness protection be integrated in the efforts regarding sustainable development to ensure the right balance between wilderness protection and the protection of indigenous peoples rights? The questions are certainly complex; however, excluding these questions from the international governance debate with the argument that the concept is too vague, subjective or sensitive will most certainly result in a continuing loss of untouched nature, both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Affiliations: 1: Law Faculty of Tilburg UniversityThe


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