login register forgot password? spacer
      
Water Today Title   GREENING TRANSPORT   GREENING GOVERNMENT    HOLIDAY WATER    FIRST NATIONS August 23, 2017

MAPS spacer | ADVISORY INFO spacer | DAILIES spacer | ABOUT spacer | A to Z spacer | WATER ALERTS spacer SIGN-UPspacer | LOGIN

THE WILD WILD NORTH
CLIMATE CHANGE, POLLUTION AND THE LAW OF THE SEA

WaterTodaytalks with David VanderZwaag, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Law & Governance, Professor of Law, Dalhousie University

Update 5/2/13

Q&A
WaterToday
What do you see as the major issues in the Arctic at the moment?


David VanderZwaag
I would say probably the number one issue is climate change and all its actual and potential impacts on the Arctic. You have the decreasing ice cover. Thinner ice cover which raises all kinds of issues for coastal communities in terms of erosion, perhaps having to move communities in some cases, and the whole infrastructure problems you run into along the coast where roads kind of cave-in. Then there's the question of sea ice decline and the implications for mammals like the polar bear. There is great concern over the future of the polar bear obviously when the ice is their dinner table, you might say. Then there's ocean acidification related also to climate change where you have the Arctic Ocean becoming acidified faster than other ocean regions because of the cold water. This could mean the deterioration of animals that have shells, so there are major implications in the Arctic.

I think the other issue would be long-range pollution into the Arctic, or Persistent Organic Pollutants. We are now controlling 22 of these internationally under the Stockholm Convention but it's been found that there are perhaps 43,000 additional chemicals that may accumulate in the Arctic. So I don't think we have really solved that problem yet. Those would be the major issues I would flag in the Arctic.

WaterToday
From a geopolitical point of view, do you see any tensions in the Arctic now?

David VanderZwaag
There has been a lot of writing about that and I think it has been blown out of proportion. You do have a build-up of what you might call military assets among quite a few of the countries, but I don't think we are facing any immediate going-to-war fugues internationally. Most of the issues are being dealt through diplomatic means. We had the settlement of the Russian-Norwegian boundary a few years ago, that was a long-standing issue. Canada and the Us have been having technical meetings on the Beaufort Sea boundary, I just don't see the big tensions that I think many writers really blow out of proportion.

WaterToday
Why then do you think the US has not ratified the Un Convention of the Law of the Sea do you see this as a threat in any way to Canada?


David VanderZwaag
I would not describe it as a threat to Canada. I think the major reason comes down to certain conservative elements in the US, particularly in the US Senate and Congress. Historically, there certainly has been a number of conservative senators who have taken the position that by becoming a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, the US would be giving up a lot of power to the United Nations. Some conservative elements call the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) a sort of socialistic document where it gives a lot of assistance to developing countries and does not recognize free market principles. But again, I really think that this is not true.

Basically, the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea has already been amended through Part 11 which now allows for more free market principles for deep seabed mining, and the US is behind that amendment process.

There are many advantages for the US in becoming party to the Convention. For example, the US could actually go out and undertake deep seabed mining; there is an international licensing regime that you can become party to. The US could begin to seek election of US citizens to various entities under the Convention such as the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the Commission on the Limits to the Continental Shelf (CLCS). There is also a new International Tribunal for the Law of Sea with judges; again there are no American judges right now because you can't elect them because the US is not a party to the Convention. So there are many benefits that would flow to the US in becoming a party to the Law of Sea Convention.

WaterToday
Do you think Obama will push to get it through. It seems they are content to let it ride for now.


David VanderZwaag
My sense is that there is very much support by Kerry and also by the Obama administration. It's hopeful that there will be the acceptance of the Law of Sea Convention in the near future.

WaterToday
In the context of US/Canada relations. Do you think the Arctic is one of the major sore points particularly with regards to the Northwest Passage and territorial disputes in the Beaufort?


David VanderZwaag
I would not describe it as a major sore point but more of a festering sore, you might say. You have the Northwest Passage issue, with the US clearly taking the position that it is a strait for international navigation, and Canada claiming since 1986 that the waters, particularly those around the Arctic Archipelago are not part of an international strait but internal waters of Canada, subject to Canadian control, including the right to prohibit certain foreign ships from coming through if, for example, they are carrying hazardous waste. So, this has been an on-going festering point but I would say that on the whole it's a well managed dispute.

In 1988, the US and Canada did enter into an Arctic Accord, a two-page treaty essentially, where they agreed to disagree and that from then on, the US would ask for Canada's consent before letting US Icebreakers come through the passage. So that largely puts the dispute on hold. However, that agreement does not specifically address commercial or naval vessels so there is the potential for this to come back as an issue. Otherwise, there have been technical meetings between the US and Canada for quite a few years, on the Beaufort Sea boundary. And as you know, the two countries have been co-operating scientifically on the extended Continental shelf mapping exercise. So on the whole, I would not call it a feuding situation but rather a festering one.

WaterToday
Canada I believe is due to submit its continental shelf mapping to the UN shortly? Would this have anything to do with the Northwest Passage?


David VanderZwaag
It is not relevant to the Northwest Passage but it is relevant to the Beaufort Sea Boundary which is contested by both countries. Both countries agree where the land boundary is, but disagree on where the offshore boundary goes to. The US has taken the position that is is an equidistant line, while the Canadian position is that you should extend the land boundary out into the Arctic ocean. There is huge area of dispute. Then there is the extended continental shelf which has yet to be undertaken where there will probably be an additional area beyond 200 nautical miles off the coast that will be in potential dispute as well. Again both countries have been having technical meetings on the boundary issues. Canada will have to submit its claim to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by December 2013. And, of course, one of the problems for the US is that it cannot submit its claim to the Commission until it becomes a party to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. So it can do its homework but cannot legitimize its claim until it becomes party the UN convention, so it's a no-brainer for the US to do so.

WaterToday
Can you tell me about Article 234 of the UNCLOS?


David VanderZwaag
Yes Article 234 is often called the ice-covered waters provision of the Law of the Sea Convention. Basically, what it does is give every coastal state that faces ice-covered waters the right to enact unilaterally special envrironmental control and pollution-prevention measures for these ice-covered waters. So the country does not have to go to the International Maritime Organization and get international approval of these standards, it can do it unilaterally. Canada has done this already under its Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, it has imposed zero-discharge standard for oil and for garbage from ships, which have been quite controversial. But most academics agree that it's acceptable under article 234.

WaterToday
Could Canada invoke Article 234 to claim control of the Northwest Passage?


David VanderZwaag
There have been quite a bit of academic debates on that. And the majority of academics including myself take the position that article 234 would apply to the Northwest Passage as long as it ice-covered and there is a need to control navigation to protect the environment. My sense is certainly that it would apply to the Northwest Passage and therefore Canada's existing construction standards for ships and its unilateral and cruise control measures would apply. But this may become less of an issue because right now there are ongoing international negotiations within the International Maritime Organization for new polar shipping codes. So if we finally get global standards that are strict, then this becomes even less of an issue in the future.

WaterToday
In closing, what is your greatest hope for the Arctic?


David VanderZwaag
The greatest hope is to see the further effective development of governance in the region. We have the Arctic Council but it's pretty limited , more of a discussion forum, although lately it has been taking more of a leadership role in developing regional agreements; it has already developed one regional agreement on Search and Rescue and is developing another, which hopefully will be ready in the next few week, on Oil Pollution Response. But we still have a long way to go. I would say we have hardly left port with regards to the governance of the Arctic Ocean.



Related Info
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - UNCLOS - UN
International Seabed Authority
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
International Tribunal for the law of the Sea
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - UNCLOS - UN
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - UNCLOS - Wikipedia
Arctic Council
















Have a question? Give us a call 613-501-0175

All rights reserved 2017 - WATERTODAY - This material may not be reproduced in whole or in part and may not be distributed,
publicly performed, proxy cached or otherwise used, except with express permission.