By Madison Hanrahan
On Friday, February 19, the Institute of Global Understanding (IGU) and the Urban Coast Institute (UCI) co-hosted a panel for the most recent installment of the Global Ocean Governance series. This panel featured global perspectives on adapting marine shipping governance and maritime sovereignty to respond to climate change. Moderated by Professor Randall Abate, this panel featured three prominent speakers who are passionate about climate change: Dr. Beatriz Martinez Romera, an associate professor of environmental and climate change law at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark; Dr. Samira Idllalène, professor of law at Cadi Ayyad University in Safi, Morocco; and Dr. Joanna Siekiera, an international lawyer and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen in Norway.
Dr. Martinez Romera began her presentation with some troubling statistics: emissions from ships and maritime transport currently account for three percent of annual global greenhouse emissions. She stated that by the year 2050, emissions could increase anywhere from 50 to 250 percent. Dr. Martinez Romera explained how international regulation of emissions has caused an oversight in limiting the amount of carbon emissions ships can release. Prior to the 2015 Paris Agreement, there was an “unequal treatment of ships and the amount of carbon they emitted,” and this unequal treatment hurt developing countries. When the Paris Agreement was created, shipping was not included in its terms, and unregulated carbon emissions persisted. Dr. Martinez Romera noted that there are now small steps underway to regulate carbon emissions from ships, such as strengthening the International Maritime Organization and with new policies implemented by the European Union to seek to comply with the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
The next speaker, Dr. Samira Idllalène, addressed how the “atmospheric waqf principle” can be applied to the marine environment to respond to climate change impacts. Dr. Idllalène stated that the atmospheric waqf principle is a belief in the Muslim religion that values the idea of trusteeship and can be utilized in a way to respect animals and the natural environment to which they belong. She supported her argument by noting that waqf is an existing legal tool in Muslim countries as well as an ancestral institution with ecological applications. Moreover, “[T]here is a growing spiritual ecology movement happening across the globe, and atmospheric waqf allows animals additional protections by ensuring climate change does not affect their environment.”
Lastly, Dr. Joanna Siekiera delivered a presentation focusing on the legal consequences of sea level rise and climate change on islands and their sovereignty and what can be done to protect these islands. Places such as the Pacific Islands, Oceania, and Bangladesh are just a few examples of states at risk of impacts to their human security, state security, and food security as climate change continues to affect the oceans. Global maritime sovereignty is governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982. This treaty protects international peace and security in the maritime environment. One way to change maritime laws and regulations to protect island and coastal states from instability linked to climate change is to amend UNCLOS. This task is challenging as countries that are not as significantly affected by sea level rise do not want additional regulations, while also claiming that amending UNCLOS will “threaten the security and stability of their countr[ies].” It is important that regulations and maritime sovereignty are established for all states because, as outlined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Bangladesh v. India (2014): “Maritime boundaries, just like land boundaries, must be stable and definitive to ensure a peaceful relationship between states in the long term.”
Given that it is highly unlikely that a majority of states will agree to amend UNCLOS, another option for protecting island and coastal states is to issue political declarations that create maritime laws that only affect a specific region. This is the optimal solution as states that do not want to change their laws will not be subject to new regulations that will address island states’ concerns. This idea of changing maritime laws at the regional level has worked before through the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. The laws outlined in this convention only applied to states in South America but, over time, the Montevideo Convention became international “customary law.” By implementing new maritime laws and regulations at the regional level, it provides safety to coastal and island states as it would outline maritime boundaries that “once established, would not be challenged or reduced as a result of sea level rise and ocean change.” These maritime regulation and sovereignty protections are extremely important as the security and stability of these states are highly dependent on the ocean.
The recording of the lecture is available to view on the UCI’s Global Ocean Governance Lecture Series webpage. The next lecture in the series, which will address issues in global fisheries governance, will be co-hosted by the IGU and UCI on Thursday, April 8, 2021.