Law professor Tullio Scovazzi of the University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, says States should make full use of existing provisions under maritime law to establish measures to protect polar regions from harm, including shipping traffic separation schemes, recommended routes, deep- water routes, areas to be avoided, compulsory pilotage and other vessel traffic services.
He notes a UNCLOS provision devoted to "ice-covered areas" which refers to the right of coastal states to adopt and enforce laws and regulations within their exclusive economic zones, "where particularly severe climatic conditions and the presence of ice covering such areas for most of the year creates obstructions or exceptional hazards to navigation and pollution of the marine environment could cause major harm or irreversible disturbance of the ecological balance."
Given changing environmental circumstances, however, he anticipates potential new questions arising, such as:
At what temperature are climatic conditions considered particularly severe?
Do laws and regulations adopted by the coastal States for ice-covered areas apply also in the part of the year when the areas are not covered by ice?
What happens if in certain years the waters are ice-covered for most of the year, but in other years they are not, also considering that the precise calculation of the duration of ice-coverage can only be made at the end of the year?
Bioprospecting is also emerging as an issue in both polar regions, says Dr. Leary of UNU-IAS.
"Bioprospecting in Antarctica in particular raises new questions about its impact on freedom of scientific research and the unique framework of international co-operation and governance in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean which is built upon the ideals of Antarctica as a region devoted to science and peace.
"Similar questions arise in the Arctic as well. It is quite suprising but it looks like bioprospecting is already a well established commercial activity in the Arctic, perhaps exceeding the level of activity in Antarctica. Both biotechnology companies and government funded research projects alike see the potential of the Arctic's unique biodiversity for new developments in biotechnology.
"The neural stem cells of Arctic squirrels for example offer interesting new possibilities for the treatment of strokes in humans, while some Arctic fish species have already yielded new interesting enzymes useful in industrial and manufacturing processes."
"But can these new commercial activities, often occurring on the high seas, be sustainably managed? That is but one new challenge for international law we are considering at this conference", says Dr. Leary.
Thorsteinn Gunnarsson, rector of the University of Akureyri says: "As the impact of climate change is increasing, it is highly important to discuss leadership and governance in the Arctic regions. The academic community should provide a platform to explore and openly debate these issues. University of Akureyri is very proud to offer this platform by