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Re-imagining the Law of the Sea: Sustainable management of biological diversity

Research project
Active research
Project size
660 000
Project period
2021 - 2022
Project owner
Department of Law

Short description

The conservation of marine ecosystems and their biodiversity are main targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 ‘Life Below Water.’ However, anthropogenic activities, including the intensification of fishing, marine pollution and climate change put pressure on biological diversity. The problem is acute since biodiversity in Europe is declining.

Concerning the protection of marine biological diversity, the ecosystem approach is a relatively novel regulatory that promotes integrated ocean management. Its implementation includes a wide array of tools such as marine spatial planning or marine protected areas (MPAs). In this context, the project seeks to propose regulatory tools for the protection of marine biological diversity in the Baltic Ocean and the Arctic marine environment.

Purpose

The overarching purpose of the project is to analyze the dynamic and formal legal processes allowing UNCLOS to adapt to current and future ocean governance challenges concerning biological diversity and the limits of such adaptability. Based on this analysis, I will propose regulatory tools for the protection of biological diversity in the Baltic Ocean and the Arctic marine environment. The project is directly linked with Sustainable Development Goal 14 ‘Life Below Water.’

Background

The Law of the Sea intertwines both individual interests of States and community interests together with their corresponding interactions. The protection of biological diversity is an example par excellence of community interest posing governance challenges. The emergence of global community interests prompted a ‘paradigm shift’  of environmental governance based on an ecosystem approach. In broad terms, the ecosystem approach is “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.”[1]

In the context of the protection of marine biological diversity, the ecosystem approach is a relatively novel regulatory paradigm that promotes integrated ocean management. Its implementation includes a wide array of tools such as marine spatial planning and marine protected areas (MPAs). The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) makes no specific reference to integrated ocean management or the protection of biological diversity.

According to Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, biological diversity concerns “the variability among living organisms from all sources … and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystem.” UNCLOS does not refer to biodiversity, but it does provide a framework for the prevention of marine pollution and management of marine resources. Such a framework contributes to the conservation of marine biological diversity. Pollution and resources, as legal categories, are certainly narrower than biological diversity in the sense that the former categories do not necessarily consider the complex interrelationships taking place in the marine environment.

Unlike pollution and resource management law, biological diversity encompasses a wide-ranging legal category that emphasizes the interdependency of life variety in all three levels: species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity.[2] Such a holistic approach requires shifting attention from media-specific pollution regimes or particular species. It is fundamental to assess the available regulatory tools for ocean integrated management “where all human activities within the defined area are addressed and managed for the purpose of conservation of marine biodiversity.”[3]

Significance of the project from a Swedish perspective

Sweden is both a Baltic and an Arctic State. Integrated ocean management should become a priority since the Baltic Sea “is inherently low in species, genetic, and functional diversity, and thus, protection of biodiversity is central to ensuring ecosystem resilience.”[4] The Arctic marine environment is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the pressure on biological diversity has not gone unnoticed.

 



[1] COP to the Convention on Biological Diversity, "Decision V/6 Ecosystem Approach," in Fifth Meeting (Nairobi, Kenia, 2000).

[2] Jeffrey McNeely et al., Conserving the world's biological diversity (Gland, Switzerland: World Resources Institute, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and International Bank for Reconstruction Development, 1990), 17.

[3] Ingvild Ulrikke Jakobsen, Marine Protected Areas in International Law: An Arctic perspective (The Netherlands: Brill NIjhoff, 2016), 5.

[4] Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), "Biodiversity in the Baltic Sea: An integrated thematic assessment on biodiversity and nature conservation in the Baltic Sea," (Finland: Helsinki Commission, 2009).