Table of Contents

Polar Oceans Governance in an Era of Environmental Change

Polar Oceans Governance in an Era of Environmental Change

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Edited by Tim Stephens and David L. VanderZwaag

This timely book provides a cutting-edge assessment of how the dynamic ocean regions at the highest latitudes on Earth are being managed in an era of unprecedented environmental change. The Arctic and Southern Oceans are experiencing transformative environmental change as a result of climate change and ocean acidification. As areas of unparalleled environmental, cultural and scientific value, they are crucibles for testing how integrated, eco-systemic governance frameworks can be developed to meet and address volatile environmental, political and economic challenges.

Chapter 8: Polar continental shelves: Australian and Canadian challenges and opportunities

Tim Stephens

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, public international law, politics and public policy, international relations


The law of the sea bestows upon coastal states sovereign rights in the continental shelf, the physical extension or prolongation of the land territory underneath the sea. On the basis of this entitlement, coastal states in both polar regions have maintained longstanding assertions to continental shelf areas in the polar seas. As climate change transforms landscapes and seascapes in the polar regions, there is a popular perception that a 'gold rush' is underwayas littoral states 'scramble' to assert rights to areas of the seafloor containing valuable resources. However, this narrative oversimplifies the legal and political reality, which is better understood as a steady march to map and delimit maritime zones, and to resolve overlapping claims, consistent with the law of the sea. In the Antarctic, the seven claimants (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom) contend that they have rights to continental shelves appurtenant to the Antarctic coast in the Southern Ocean. However, these 'claims', like the claims over Antarctica itself, are not recognized by the international community at large, are placed in abeyance by the Antarctic Treaty, and have little practical relevance in the near term because of the prohibition on mining within the Antarctic Treaty Area (ATA) under the Madrid Protocol. In the Arctic, there is no equivalent to the Antarctic regime, and continental shelf questions are governed solely by the law of the sea.

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