ArcGov Global

Work Package 1: Global Governance

Several global frameworks are central to Arctic governance. Some of these are specifically targeted toward the Arctic or have Arctic-specific components. In our project, we focus on the two most important such mechanisms, UNCLOS Art. 234 and the IMO’s Polar Code.

Under UNCLOS, provisions like Art. 234 have a specific Arctic dimension (referring to ice-covered areas). Especially relevant to our research are questions concerning China’s adherence to UNCLOS and how China views the role of this international regime in relation to its own Arctic interests. Challenges to this regime could arise from developments in high-seas fisheries and/or protected marine areas, overlapping continental seabed claims, or the increasingly frequent discussions on the status of Arctic sea-lanes. Such challenges raise questions about the flexibility and adaptability of UNCLOS in a context characterized by changing power dynamics and climatic change. Here China plays a key role. How does China view the role of UNCLOS in the Arctic?

The IMO holds particular Arctic relevance, as most conventions prepared and finalized under IMO also apply to the Arctic Ocean. Moreover, this organization has adopted a mandatory shipping code for polar regions, the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the ‘Polar Code’), which came into force on 1 January 2017. Building on non-binding guidelines that had evolved since the 1990s, the Polar Code sets legally binding standards for ships operating in the Arctic or Antarctic on matters such as vessel design and construction, equipment, crew training, and search-and-rescue training. Amendments to the Code require ships to have a Polar Ship Certificate to operate in Arctic waters; obtaining this certificate requires an assessment of the ship’s adherence to the standards of the Code. How has China engaged with the development of the Polar Code?’