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Appropriating the Commons: Environmental Implications of The Law of the Sea

Sat, April 1, 1:15 to 2:45pm, The Drake Hotel, Georgian

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


In a 1986 essay on history and space, the historian Reinhard Koselleck identified a recent change in the “historical quality” of ocean space. Through the creation of Exclusive Economic Zones, enacted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, the formerly “open” ocean was transformed. While UNCLOS negotiations had been held since 1956, the international resolution now established that zones of 200 nautical miles could now be subsumed under national jurisdiction by coastal states, with the latter having the sole right to exploit the zones’ resources. The regional implications of this transnational law varied enormously. The United States - the world’s most powerful maritime country for the second half of the 20th century - famously refused to sign. Sovereign disputes in the Artic were fought through new environmental and legal arguments. And the world watches today a race of artificial islands in the South China Sea being played in the name of sovereignty.

This panel enquires about the environmental dimensions of the Law of the Sea in different parts of the world. Environmental concerns often work as geopolitical weapons and resource security (fishing, mining…) and military surveillance have deeply transformed the oceans in the last decades.

This panel will function as a round table. Four researchers from different disciplines and geographical origin will present their respective cases for 10 minutes each. The following oceans will be discussed from the points of view of history, sociology and anthropology: Pacific, Indian, South-China, North Atlantic and Mediterranean. On a second round of 5 minutes each, we will all discuss the broader implications to environmental politics and theory of the cases presented by the rest of the speakers. For the last 45 minutes, we will open the floor for discussing this urgent matter.

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