Global warming is bringing rapid change to the Arctic. The melting of sea ice and glaciers is increasing faster than scientists predicted even a year ago. Environmental change is forcing legal and economic developments, which in turn will have serious environmental and social consequences. However, the potential for conflict has been greatly exaggerated. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) has established the international legal regime governing the division of ocean space, sovereign rights over ocean resources, protection of the marine environment and the conduct of activities in and under the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, a number of global environmental and maritime conventions apply to the Arctic. All the land territory, with its resources, is subject to national jurisdiction, as are the maritime zones proceeding seawards to the limits set out in the LOSC. While there is no multilateral political organisation with the power to regulate activities or to take legally binding decisions, there is a cooperative mechanism in the Arctic Council. Once all the maritime boundaries in the Arctic are delimited, the exploitation of resources can begin. However, first, precautionary measures should be adopted to ensure that the environment is protected as much as possible from increases in shipping and fishing as well as oil and gas development. This would require the elaboration of a regional seas agreement for the Arctic, incorporating elements of the Arctic Council, that reiterates the general principles in Part XII of the LOSC as well as those in the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, including the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach.
Life on earth, the climate, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are to a large degree dependent on the health of the oceans and its biodiversity, which supports the global ecosystem. Ocean ecosystems provide essential services, food security and livelihoods to human beings all over the world. Yet, the oceans are currently or potentially threatened by human activities and their consequences, including: overfishing, destructive fishing practices, climate change, pollution from many sources, ocean acidification, habitat destruction, the spread of alien species, mineral exploration and exploitation, ocean dumping, underwater noise, marine debris, carbon sequestration, pipelines and cables, tourism, bioprospecting and marine scientific research. If we are to continue to benefit from the resources and services provided by the oceans, we must take urgent action to counter these threats. Some problems are already being addressed in various international instruments, most of which apply beyond national jurisdiction. However, because of the seriousness of the threats to marine ecosystems, States are considering whether existing measures are sufficient. Furthermore, with the recognition of the need to take an integrated, ecosystem approach to ocean management, some States are calling for an implementing agreement to the UN Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) to address both the conservation and the sustainable use of marine biological resources beyond national jurisdiction. This paper examines the legal background and urges States to elaborate an implementing agreement to the LOSC to create a new regime for marine biodiversity and genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction.