Comparative Ocean Governance

Comparative Ocean Governance

Place-Based Protections in an Era of Climate Change

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Robin Kundis Craig

Comparative Ocean Governance examines the world’s attempts to improve ocean governance through place-based management – marine protected areas, ocean zoning, marine spatial planning – and evaluates this growing trend in light of the advent of climate change and its impacts on the seas.

Chapter 4: The International Legal Framework of Ocean Governance

Robin Kundis Craig

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, environmental management, law - academic, comparative law, environmental law


As Chapter 3 noted, the five Arctic Ocean nations are currently clarifying their territorial claims to the Arctic Ocean and its continental shelf. In centuries past, such “clarification” probably would have involved warfare and bloodshed, or at least intense diplomatic negotiations. Now, however, these nations are relying on the rules and processes created under international law—specifically, the 1982 Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS III—to establish their territorial boundaries in and below the Arctic Ocean.1 UNCLOS III and other international treaties provide important legal bases for improving ocean governance regimes because they allow nations peaceably to assert jurisdiction over sometimes vast areas of the ocean, establishing governance boundaries that other nations will generally respect. In addition, international law can supply some global goals for marine governance. These goals include, for example, the reduction of pollution and an increase in biodiversity, both of which can help to contribute to the resilience of marine ecosystems, especially in the face of emerging climate change impacts. This chapter surveys the international law rules that underlie nations’ increasing use of place-based governance regimes for the oceans. Ocean and even coastal ecosystems are classic examples of environmental commons—areas that are considered open to all. Indeed, the traditional basis for ocean exploitation in the Age of Discovery, articulated most extensively by Hugo Grotius in 1609, was “freedom of the seas.”2 Under this doctrine, most of the world’s oceans—the vast area known as the “high seas”—were...

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