The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: a governing framework for ocean acidification?

Ocean acidification is a major emergent threat to the ocean, its wildlife and the goods and services they provide. While the international community has committed to ‘minimize and address’ ocean acidification as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is unclear how this is to be fulfilled, especially as there are no international agreements explicitly designed to tackle this issue. Ocean acidification is of relevance to the work of several global agreements and makes achieving their goals more difficult. Being largely sectoral, these agreements are restricted in their ability to address ocean acidification holistically, often unable to both minimize and address the issue. This has resulted in a very limited response to ocean acidification that is fragmented across a number of regimes. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has been identified as an agreement that could be used to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and thus mitigate ocean acidification. However, this article argues that a far more pivotal role can be played by UNCLOS, through its creation of a governing framework for ocean acidification. UNCLOS is the one Convention with a mandate broad enough to address ocean acidification in a direct, holistic manner. UNCLOS places a duty on States to both minimize and address ocean acidification through its various provisions that pertain to the protection and preservation of the marine environment and the conservation of marine living resources. The Convention establishes the framework through which ocean governance is to be implemented, which should be understood as extending to ocean acidification. Thus, UNCLOS is uniquely placed to guide a coherent international response.

Harrould‐Kolieb E. R., in press. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: a governing framework for ocean acidification? Review of European Comparative & International Environmental Law. Article (subscription required).

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