Friday, August 29, 2008

Defining Rights to Artic Seabed Minerals

Due to global warming and the melting of Artic ice, as well as the development of new technologies, experts predict that it will be possible to extract minerals from previously inaccessible areas of the Artic seabed by the middle of this century.  Partly in anticipation of this possibility, the five countries bordering the Artic, Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark and the United States, met in May to discuss allocation of rights to harvest minerals from the Artic seabed.  The United Kingdom has now submitted a request to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission) seeking expanded rights to certain Artic seabed minerals around Ascension Island.

The U.K.'s submission may be found at http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/gbr08/ascension_executive_summary.pdf.

At issue is Article 76 of the the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS) which entitles coastal states to a continental shelf, beyond the territorial sea, of at least 200 nautical miles from the shoreline.  When the continental shelf extends further than 200 miles, a state may be able to extend its claim to a larger portion of the seabed as well; however, such claims must be submitted to the Commission for its recommendations. According to Article 77 of UNCLOS, States essentially excercise exclusive control over the exploration and exploitation of natural resources found in or on the continental shelf within their jurisdiction.  The U.K. is asking the Commission to recommend the extension of its sovereignty over a greater area adjacent to the Ascension Island.  According to BBC News, the U.K. is considering asking for expanded rights in other areas as well, including around the Falkland Islands.  At least some of these claims are likely to be contested by other states who have competing claims to these areas, as well as by environmental groups that are concerned about the potential harm to the environment that may occur as a result of work to extract minerals from the seabed.

(cgb)

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