On the relevance of the humanities: Law of the Sea

"Coastal areas are being impacted by the rise in sea levels brought about by climate change."

David Freestone argues that climate change, rising sea levels and increasing resource demands call for an ever more sophisticated regulatory framework.

"Why are we interested in the Law of the Sea? The ocean covers 70% of the planet – it would more accurately be named ‘Ocean’ than ‘Earth’ – a fact brought home when we first saw photographs of our planet from outer space. The legal regime that covers these vast areas is of obvious importance and, unsurprisingly, it is not without controversies that require considerable study. Coastal States squabble about the delimitation of the areas close to their shores. These areas are important for exploitation of resources – oil and gas for example but also increasingly wind and other ocean renewable energy resources such as tidal energy. These coastal areas are also being impacted by the rise in sea levels brought about by climate change."

"As humankind’s voracious appetite for fish continues to grow, fishing vessels are being sent to further and more inhospitable parts of the oceans - competing with more expensive and sophisticated gear for the declining available stocks. All these resource demands require an increasingly sophisticated regulatory framework and are subject to more and more disputes."

"More recently, the discovery of new resources on the deep ocean floor – mineral resources including precious metals associated with hydrothermal vents – but also genetic resources based on sulphur rather than oxygen, extremophile life forms that live in association with high temperature deep ocean volcanic vents, from which perhaps life first evolved."

"The United Nations is currently re-thinking the global legal regime of the high seas with a view to ensuring that the magnificent diversity of life forms the ocean hosts are conserved and exploited in a sustainable fashion. The issues at stake include ownership of, and access to, marine genetic resources harvested from these open ocean areas, the need to establish marine protected areas in ocean ecosystems beyond the control of coastal states and the requirement to assess more accurately the impacts on the areas of commons we now appreciate are increasingly vulnerable to human activities."