Melting sea ice provides Canada with an opportunity to advance its ocean laws
April 11, 2012 | For David VanderZwaag, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Law and Governance at Dalhousie University, the numerous challenges brought about by climate change may give Canada a chance to excel on the international stage.
“There is a huge doughnut hole in the central Arctic Ocean,” he says. “It’s beyond the 200-nautical-mile jurisdiction of all countries, and it could potentially turn out to be a problem. But, at the same time, it is an area in which Canada could demonstrate its leadership.”
Ice is thinning in the Arctic at a much quicker rate than experts had previously believed; with these changes come new global shipping routes, and growing interest in natural resource development and regional tourism.
“These changes are pushing Canada to advance its laws on shipping regulation, ocean governance and marine biodiversity protection,” says Vanderzwaag. “Canada has its challenges in Arctic governance, given the increased regional activity and mounting interest in developing the oil, gas and mineral industries, but the way we govern the oceans and adopt practices of sustainable development in the Far North gives Canada the potential to lead the way.”
VanderZwaag’s research looks at how and where Canada can build on existing strengths in oceanic governance. Among these strengths are the Oceans Act of 1996—a first-of-its-kind comprehensive international act that set out a roadmap for dealing with future challenges in international oceanic governance—and Canada’s strict environmental standards for shipping.
In addition, VanderZwaag’s work is already helping to strengthen Canada’s law and policy net for protecting—and even saving—marine species at risk. He recently co-authored a report for the Royal Society of Canada on how to better sustain Canada’s marine biodiversity. He has also published extensively on the precautionary approach to decision-making, which can be a powerful risk-assessment tool for policy-makers in evaluating the environmental impact of development proposals.