Regime formation in the Arctic - the possibilities of an Arctic regime for offshore hydrocarbon activities
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Climate change has a severe impact on the Arctic region, causing sea ice, snow coverage and permafrost to decrease rapidly. These changes to the Arctic environment gradually increase access to the hydrocarbon resources below the Arctic Ocean seabed. However, there is hardly any regulation in the Arctic region to adequately protect its environment from increasing hydrocarbon activities. The aim of this thesis is therefore to make recommendations for an Arctic Regime for Offshore Hydrocarbon Activities (AROHA) which can effectively protect the Arctic environment from the negative effects of offshore hydrocarbon activities. The set up of this research entails examining policy systems and practices in order to learn and draw inspiration from them. Assessment criteria are established to assess the effectiveness of the current regime applicable to the Arctic and of several ‘comparable policy models’. These criteria are: stringency, level of collaboration, implementation and compliance. As a point of departure, a gap analysis based on the four criteria is performed for the Arctic Council Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines, an important part of the current regime. This leads to a list of ‘options for improvement’. Next, four comparable policy models are assessed using the same criteria: the OSPAR Convention, CRAMRA, the Helsinki Convention, and two regional agreements between Arctic states. Based on the assessments of these policy models a list of ‘lessons learnt’ is established which provides for the elements and aspects that could make an AROHA strong or weak, effective or ineffective, successful or unsuccessful. Based on these lessons a proposal is developed for an AROHA. It has as objective to prevent and eliminate pollution from offshore hydrocarbon sources; to protect the Arctic maritime area; and to ensure that both present and future generations are entitled to the social and economic benefits arising from offshore activities. The proposed contracting parties are the Arctic coastal states; Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the US. The agreement will roughly apply to the sea and seabed within national jurisdiction of the contracting parties, excluding a part of the OSPAR area. It is further proposed that a commission is established with the mandate to focus on regulating offshore hydrocarbon activities and protecting the marine environment. It can take legally binding decisions and recommendations and has far-reaching competences. A next step in this research is to investigate the feasibility of regime formation in the Arctic. For this, a list of fifteen factors which influence regime formation has been distilled from regime theories. An assessment of these factors reveals that the formation of an environmental protection regime for offshore hydrocarbon activities in the Arctic is an unlikely thing to happen at this moment. Nevertheless, several recommendations can be made to increase chances for the formation of an AROHA. Making the compliance mechanisms and institutional structure less intrusive on state sovereignty makes a regime more acceptable to the Arctic states. Feelings of sovereignty should be mitigated by setting clear delimitations for the continental shelf and by solving territorial disputes. Furthermore, the cooperation between the Arctic states should be maintained as should the Arctic Council. Research efforts should continue and the international community should keep investing in epistemic communities, which form an important link between scientists and policy makers. NGOs should keep pushing for regime formation in order to increase feelings of priority and political will among the Arctic states. Last, NGOs and the international community should emphasise that a large part of the Arctic Ocean is beyond state sovereignty. It is the common heritage of mankind and the Arctic states have obligations under the Law of the Sea to preserve the Arctic marine environment.