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Ocean Acidification and Protection under International Law from Negative Effects: A Burning Issue amongst a Sea of Regimes?

Yangmay Downing

Keywords: Environmental law; law of the sea; climate change

Ocean acidification is a recently recognised phenomenon and, like climate change, is the consequence of increased anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As the atmospheric concentration of CO2 rises, the oceans directly assimilate CO2 and automatically become more acidic. The phenomenon poses a huge concern for calcifying organisms such as shellfish, pteropods and corals. Any negative impacts caused to organisms at this level will have far-reaching consequences for biodiversity, food, employment and economic activity across the globe. The aim of this article is to examine two questions: first, whether the current international regulatory framework can provide adequate protection from the negative effects of ocean acidification, and if not, what can be done to better address this issue? Existing international regimes only tangentially address the issue and this may accordingly lead to suboptimal environmental protection. This paper concludes that a new protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that has a twin focus on ocean acidification and climate change, would provide the most appropriate step to avoid the negative effects associated with the phenomenon.

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