Reflections on the Past 25 Years of Ocean Law and Policy

In: Cooperation and Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region


The past 25 years have witnessed an impressive range of activity in the field of ocean law and policy. This article offers some reflections on illustrative examples of work in this field, and on the motivations that spurred such initiatives, and considers how effective and lasting these efforts and their results may turn out to be.

The international community—governments, stakeholders, intergovernmental organizations, and others—has devoted considerable efforts to make marine fisheries more sustainable in the face of growing worldwide demand for seafood and improved fishing technology. Despite these efforts, the record of success in this endeavor is mixed at best. For the Asia-Pacific region, which relies significantly on seafood for protein, this raises serious concerns.

The Arctic Ocean offers a fascinating case for testing how well nations can cooperate in managing the full range of human activities in a specific marine environment. Until recently, nations did not really need to cooperate extensively in the Arctic Ocean, as the year-round extent of ice coverage made most human activities there difficult if not impossible. But conditions have changed profoundly due to the warming of the region. Arctic States—and other States with significant interests in the region—have in the past decade found ways to cooperate on Arctic Ocean issues, despite serious geopolitical tensions.

The ocean and its challenges have attracted unprecedented high-level attention in recent years. High-profile conferences on ocean matters have sprung up in the past decade, including the Our Ocean Conferences, the UN Ocean Conferences relating to Sustainable Development Goal 14, the Economist Ocean Summits and similar gatherings. Are these making a significant difference? And where are they—and we—headed?


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