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Monday, October 06, 2008

Arctic Sovereignty, Climate Change, and the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami

Thanks again to Dan for the opportunity to return to PrawfsBlawg as a guest blogger. During this month, I hope to make a series of posts related to transnational and international issues – my scholarly area of focus. I thought I would start off with a post about Arctic Sovereignty. I had blogged on this topic during my last PrawfsBlawg stint. The topic hopefully is one of general interest, but this post might be particularly useful to law students, many who are madly searching for appropriate note topics.

The issues surrounding Arctic Sovereignty are fresh in mind: On Friday, with a generous grant from the Canadian government, Southwestern’s Journal of International Law hosted a conference on the topic. It was the first comprehensive treatment by a U.S. law school on the recent legal issues related to the Arctic and Northwest Passage that have arisen because of the melting ice and the anticipated increase in Arctic shipping and economic activity. I was fortunate to be able to hear from leading Law of the Sea experts (people like John Norton Moore and Ted McDorman), government officials (J. Ashley Roach, U.S. State Department), interest groups (Rosemary Cooper, ITK), leading scientists (Larry Mayer and Vincent Gallucci), as well as many rising stars in legal academia (e.g., Suzanne Lalonde, Michael Robinson-Dorn, Noah Hall, Rebecca Bratspies, Sarah Krakoff, Sophie Theriault).

Much is potentially at stake. For Canada, climate change, runaway oil prices, environmental degradation, and various other issues have vaulted the issue of Arctic sovereignty to the top of Canada’s economic, defense, and diplomatic concerns. News articles are published on a daily basis in Canada on the issue, and it is a point of contention in Canada’s upcoming election. The issue, however, is also important in the U.S. -- although it receives much less coverage in the media (see, e.g., NY Times Op-ed by John Bellinger, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) and among legal academics. My take is that the legal issues related to the Arctic may well spur a renewed interest for the U.S. to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.

I wanted to quickly highlight one issue raised in the Arctic Sovereignty debate -- an issue that seems under-treated in the U.S., and presumably something that would make for a great student note topic. Rosemary Cooper spoke from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami about the challenges facing the Inuit with climate change and the "race to the Arctic." The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is an organization that represents and promotes the interests of the Inuit. The challenges related to housing conditions, education, infant mortality, suicide rates, and life expectancy in Inuit communities is stunning. Although much is at stake for the Inuit (and Alaskan natives) with recent environmental changes, little has been written in the U.S. law reviews on this important topic. The issues raised are fascinating, and bring together concepts in human rights, indigenous rights, and environmental law.

The national attention is understandably drawn elsewhere to more immediately pressing matters (the financial crisis, the election etc.). I suspect in the next few years, however, we'll be hearing much more about the Arctic Sovereignty debate.

Posted by Austen Parrish on October 6, 2008 at 01:46 PM in Blogging, International Law | Permalink


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