The Influence of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on US and Canadian Environmental Policies in the Arctic Ocean

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Graeme Auld
Essay Abstract: 
The Arctic Ocean is experiencing economic and political pressures that threaten its environmental integrity. In particular, energy extraction is a particularly worrying human activity that may lead to three sets of environmental risks: maritime territory disputes, marine pollution, and marine environmental degradation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) anchors the governing regime for the Arctic Ocean. I examine how the provisions in the UNCLOS affect US and Canadian environmental policies relating to energy extraction in the Arctic Ocean by applying a “pathways” approach. This mode of inquiry emphasizes the institutional processes and “causal logics” that propagate the rules in the UNCLOS. Simultaneously, I try to understand how “harder” and “softer” rules in the UNCLOS affect national policies in different ways. I find that harder provisions affect outcomes in more predictable, measurable, and predictable ways. I also find that softer provisions are not necessarily worse provisions; softer international rules can provide beneficial flexibility and provide broad principles that are useful in certain contexts.