New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Edited by Tim Stephens and David L. VanderZwaag
Chapter 1: Polar oceans governance: shifting seascapes, hazy horizons
The Arctic and Southern Oceans are 'poles apart' on many fronts. The Arctic Ocean is surrounded by five coastal states, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States, each having clear rights and responsibilities over offshore jurisdictional zones allowed under the law of the sea (see Map One). The Antarctic is a continent with no generally recognized coastal states. The Antarctic Treaty has placed in 'deep freeze' the claims of seven states to parts of the continent and over possible offshore jurisdictional zones (see Map Two). The Arctic has permanent human inhabitants, including many coastal indigenous communities, while the Antarctic hosts temporary residents at scientific stations. The Antarctic is subject to an indefinite moratorium on mineral exploration and development, while the Arctic is open for business for both hydrocarbon and mineral exploitation. Given the greater extent of ice-free ocean, Antarctic waters contain a larger number of marine organisms than the Arctic. For example, at least 24 Antarctic and sub-Antarctic seabird species number more than one million individuals while only about 13 Arctic and sub-Arctic seabirds reach that level. Environmental change, however, is now the dominant and shared characteristic of both regions, especially as climate change makes its effects felt. Accelerating loss of polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could result in global mean sea level rise of greater than one metre above present day level by 2100. In September 2012, the sea ice extent in the Arctic fell to 3.