Wednesday, November 6, 2013

E-Book: Current Developments in Arctic Law

Short Introduction:

Ongoing changes in the Arctic generate an increase of human activities (e.g., shipping and exploitation of natural resources), ones which will require legal and other regulation if they are to be safe and sustainable. This book compiles 18 short contributions that will provide into how the law and policy function in the Arctic. Many of the contributions identify legal issues that will shape the future of the Arctic, offering perspectives that would benefit the legal community at large.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Arctic Circle: A New Initiative in Arctic Dialogue

by Kamrul Hossain

Yet another leader – Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson – the President of Iceland has stepped in to warn the world of the consequences of the changes occurring in the Arctic. It was exactly 25 years ago in October 1987, the then Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev, in the landmark Murmansk initiative, announced the Arctic as a “zone of peace”, which created the basis for the establishment of an inter-governmental cooperation body known as “Arctic Council”. Since 1996 the Arctic Council has been successfully dealing with Arctic Affairs addressing multiple issues that affect Arctic environment and societies and its people including highlights on its significant number of indigenous peoples. While the inter-governmental body as a whole is a closed one involving only the eight Arctic states, in recent years, rapid changes occurring in the Arctic have got eye opening situation also for the non-Arctic nations from the rest of the world. The Arctic Council although has recently added six non-Arctic nations as observers, the latter nevertheless do not have any effective role to play rather than only observing the meetings.

President Grímsson’s initiative – Arctic Circle – thus finds a place where not only the Arctic states, actors, stakeholders and its people will have a role to play, but also it involves all other actors, regardless of where-so-ever they are from, either effected by the changes taking place in the region or have got legitimate interests in the Arctic. These actors include nation states, as well as business companies, academics, policy analysts, think tank institutions, NGOs, media etc. The first meeting of the initiative has just taken place in Icelandic capital Reykjavik from 12-14 October 2013. Quite an impressive number of states’ representatives including Ministers and Ambassadors both from Arctic and non-Arctic nations attended the meeting. President Putin of Russia sent Mr. Artur Chilingravo – the Russian polar explorer, who became a legendary figure after planting Russian flag in 2007 underneath the North Pole – as his special envoy, who explained Russia’s position in the Arctic. What makes the event special was an all-inclusive participation from variety of different sectors including, among others business sectors, such as shipping, oil and gas, tourism etc.            

The three day conference was full of interesting presentations, both academic and non-academic, from a range of issues of Arctic interests. The presentations brought both alarming pictures pertaining to climate change and environmental consequence as well as the pictures on new opportunities bringing economic boom to the region. On one hand the presentations show the concerns from environmentalists, and on the other hand they also show responses from companies on ways how they see things are moving ahead with sufficient precaution based on the available scientific knowledge of the region. Interestingly, the conference has seen huge interactions on cross-sectoral issues. Listening to each other’s views, discussions and dialogues amongst participants from multiples sectors with differing interests brought innovation in dealing with the Arctic. The repercussion of disseminated knowledge definitely brings significant incentives where balanced actions for sustainability have been the highlighted issue. The full of presentations have not limited the conference itself to only a venue for serious discussions. It had a lot of fun part too. For many it has also been a venue for meeting good old colleagues as well as a ground for network building.         

It is not yet completely clear, what future does the Arctic Circle predict – whether it aims to emerge as a formal institution or not – President Grímsson, nevertheless, desires to hold the gathering as an annual event every year. It is thus yet to be seen in which direction Arctic Circle moves, but for sure its annual gathering will bring new insights in knowledge building and sharing within the Arctic itself, and with the rest of the world.     

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sending of Blog Post!

Blog posts can be sent to the following email address:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dear Arctic law thematic network fellows,
It will be great to see most of you in the forthcoming Polar law symposium/Arctic Circle in Iceland.
NEWS: our electronic book is now out – wonderful. Dr. Hasanat did a great job in finalizing the format of the electronic book, which you can find from (we will also create a link from the University of the Arctic’s website to this publication).
ANOTHER PIECE OF NEWS: We have created a possibility for you to blog on Arctic law related issues and questions. Our aim here is to publish short pieces on topical Arctic legal issues (between 400 and 700 words). We encourage you – the members of the thematic network – to contribute to the blog, and to circulate this thematic network blog posts amongst your circles. The blog will also be visible also in the University of the Arctic’s website so we can reach much wider audiences by blogging this way. Dr. Kamrul Hossain, who has done a great job with creating this possibility, will administer the blog. The blog can be accessed through the link: Please send your contributions addressed to Dr. Hossain at: <> 
The University of the Arctic will announce these accomplishments soon in their news section.
So, colleagues, see you soon in Iceland!
Best, Timo
Timo Koivurova
Research professor, director
The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law
Arctic Centre
University of Lapland

Monday, September 16, 2013


The Arctic Council – a body of eight circumpolar states – has had its eighth Ministerial meeting in May 2013 in Kiruna, the Swedish mining town above the Arctic Circle. While there have been a number of remarkable achievements, such as the adoption of a binding agreement on the cooperation on oil spills response; of importance however is also the inclusion of new observer states. The number of observer states has been doubled with the admission of six new countries. Except Italy the other admitted new countries – China, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea – are from the Far East. The observer status in the Council is granted not only to state actors, but also to inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The European Union (EU) has also aspired for an observer status, but a decision on its application was deferred. Yet the EU has been granted the right to observe Council’s proceedings until a final decision is made at a later stage. What consequence does the Arctic Council have with the expansion of observer states? Does this expansion weaken the authority of the Arctic states in Arctic affairs? Or does this expansion enhance the legitimacy of Arctic governance? Apparently, the observer states are the states that do not have territories in the Arctic. Nevertheless, out of around 14 million square kilometers of Arctic Ocean, a significant part – considered to be the high sea – is open to all the states either Arctic or non-Arctic; although it should be noted that presence of thick ice makes this part of the marine area inaccessible. The law of the sea however grants a number of legitimate rights to all the states e.g. certain rights in the exclusive economic zone – a 200 nautical mile zone determined from the coastal state’s shoreline – as well as a right to navigation through the newly emerged sea routes – the North East Sea Route and the Northwest Passage – along the coastline of the Arctic states given that the disputes over these sea routes are settled as international straits but not internal waterways. Furthermore, the Svalbard Island located in the high Arctic Ocean, the status of which has been determined by an international agreement concluded in 1920, offers legal rights to mining and mineral exploration and exploitation as well as right to research expedition to all contracting states. Many such states including China are non-Arctic nations. Even though Norway exercises the sovereignty over the island, the treaty of 1920 grants certain non-discriminatory rights to other contracting states albeit with precise responsibility determined by local laws regulations pertaining to the protection of the environment. Thus, regardless of their admission to the Arctic Council, the non-Arctic observer states, like any other states, have legitimate interests and stance in the Arctic. Inclusion of the non-Arctic states in the Arctic Council as observers does not mean really too much. The primary role of an observer is basically only to observe the work of the Council without however having any active role in its decision-making. If an observer state does have any proposal, that must be channeled through an Arctic state or a Permanent Participant – the indigenous people’s organization that participates in the Arctic Council’s decision-making. The real contribution, if any, an observer can make, is through its engagement in the level of working groups of the Council. In fact, in Kiruna meeting a document entitled “Arctic Council Observer Manual” was endorsed. This Manual provides clear instructions on how an observer may contribute to the subsidiary bodies of the Arctic Council. Generally an observer may, at the discretion of the Chair, makes statements, but that is only after the Arctic states and permanent participants have done so. In addition, an observer may also present written statements, submit relevant documents and provide views on the issues under discussion. Nevertheless the real authority in regard to decision-making at all level lies at the hand of the Arctic states. Why have then these non-Arctic states long been interested in joining the club? Is a seat in the Arctic Council prestigious, and thus the emerging powers are determined to show their presence despite knowing the lack of real power in Council’s decision-making? This is perhaps true, an engagement in broader world politics, whosesoever it is, especially of the powerful nations with little or even no jurisdiction, is a matter of prestige. It is therefore no surprise that the countries admitted would want to expand their political presence in a region that has huge future potential. But from the side of the Arctic states, the admission of new members in the observer group is about achieving recognition of the authority of the Arctic states in Arctic affairs; promoting mutual understanding in Arctic matters; enhancing further cooperation on a greater level; and ensuring transparency in the governance mechanism. The admission of the non-Arctic states as observers surely thus brings enhanced legitimacy in the governance of the Arctic.