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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 5: Globalization and Environmental Protection on the High Seas

Elizabeth R. DeSombre


Elizabeth R. DeSombre As a report from the Australian Parliament noted, ‘it is a world of too many ships that are over aged and under maintained chasing too little freight for too little return’ (Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 1992: x). Most of these ships, as measured by number or by weight, are now registered in what are called ‘flags of convenience’ (FOCs) or open registries. This trend challenges the ability or willingness of states to regulate activity undertaken by their nationals in a way that epitomizes the concerns that many express about globalization generally. Ocean shipping thus serves as the quintessential example of a globalized industry; it is both an industry that has led many of the globalization trends that anyone studying this issue would recognize and an area in which the standard economic globalization that scholars and activists address more broadly is in fact carried out, since so much of world trade is conducted via ships on the oceans. Ninety-five per cent of goods traded internationally as measured by weight, and two-thirds as measured by value, are transported on the oceans by ships (Steinberg, 2001: 14), most of which fly flags of convenience. States compete for ship registrations by intentionally keeping taxes and fees low and by having lax, or poorly enforced, environmental, safety and labour standards; ship owners respond by flying these convenient flags in an effort to compete internationally through lower operating costs. This ability to choose a level of international regulation by choosing...

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