Lunch Panel: Law of the Sea: New Horizons

November 14, 2014
















Matthew McManus 






At issue during this panel was how to reconcile international environmental law with the booming resource extraction industry eager to take advantage of significant or novel economic opportunities in the world's oceans.
Mr. Russell's presentation focused on whether Article 82 of the UNCLOS agreement can be conceptually reconciled with international environmental law. Article 82 indicates that coastal states must make payments and/or contributions to developing countries if they exploit resources beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ authorized by the Convention. It was formulated as a compromise between wide margin coastal states, who wanted to exploit resources they considered within their territorial jurisdiction since they fell within their coast's continental shelf, and those who wanted to restrict this capacity and preserve the resources of the high seas. This has domestic significance since Canada has made extensive claims on the resources off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. This has sparked considerable controversy around whether and how Canada should offer compensation to developing states according to the equitable sharing criteria outlined in Article 82. 

Mr. Russell argued that the criteria can be reconciled with international environmental law. He highlighted that the preamble to UNCLOS includes a stipulation on the need to protect and preserve the marine environment for the common benefit of mankind and to maintain generational equity. Mr. Russell also indicated that the International Seabed Authority is bound to acting in accordance with customary international law, including environmental law. Saying that, Mr. Russell ended his presentation by highlighting that questions remained on how to interpret international environmental law in line with the equity provisions of Article 82. For instance, which developing states would be entitled to compensation if Canada drills for oil? Who will bear the financial burdens: the Canadian state or the petroleum industry? Should royalties be spent on environmentally friendly policies?

Dr. Bartenstein's presentation focused more specifically on the role of international law in protecting the Arctic ocean. She expressed concern that the signals sent by powerful interest groups, including the Arctic Five states (Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark, and Norway), offer little reassurance that the Arctic will be preserved. Indeed, she admitted that many see climate change and the dissolution of Arctic ice as an economic opportunity.  

Dr. Bartenstein indicated that the Arctic ocean is primarily threatened by two trends. First, it is warming at an accelerating rate which threatens the ecological balance of the region by threatening the extinction of species who rely on Arctic ice. Secondly, human activity has grown increasingly invasive since the environment that is both less hostile and more easily managed by modern technology. Dr. Bartenstein noted that some states have pushed for a treaty to be adopted which would preserve the Arctic. This would be modeled on the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. Unfortunately this push has met resistance from Arctic states, who look with suspicion upon an attempt to restrict their sovereignty in a region they consider within their territorial jurisdiction.  

While Dr. Bartenstein acknowledged that it may be counter-productive to push for an Arctic treaty given the mistrust and resentment it might foster, she did indicate that we must reduce greenhouse gases if the ocean is to be preserved. She ended her presentation on an inspiring note by reminding attendees that a healthy environment is essential for all human activity, including economic activity.


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