Detailed description of the Thematic Network on Arctic Law

In recent years legal issues in the Arctic have gained special significance as the region is undergoing a huge transformation. This transformation is mainly due to double pressures of economic globalization and climate change, which causes diverse challenges to the existing legal structures functioning in the region. There are plenty of topical issues to deal with. They include: outer continental shelf law in the Arctic Ocean, legal questions related to the opening Arctic seas, rights of Arctic indigenous peoples, biodiversity law, oil and gas related regulations etc.

Thematic Network's operation has been divided into sub-groups dealing with specific issue areas. The sub-groups are working independently. The central idea for each of the sub-groups is that the group will gain ownership of its work. In the planning phase it was decided that the following sub-groups will immediately be established with a possibility to increase the number:

1. Sub-group on Indigenous Peoples’ law.
2. Sub-group on Oil and Gas Legislation.
3. Sub-group on Arctic Governance

Objectives of the Thematic Network

* Building a network of Arctic legal experts.
* Research cooperation amongst the members of the thematic network.
* Cooperation with other thematic networks in order to undertake multi-disciplinary research projects.
* Organizing seminars and conferences in order to disseminate Arctic legal questions to the wider audiences.
* Contribution in the development of legal education focusing on Arctic issues.
* Taking part in the preparation of joint funding applications along with other members and member institutions of the Thematic Network.

I. Leadership

Lead institution of the University of the Arctic Thematic Network on Arctic Law is the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law (NIEM), Arctic Centre under leadership of professor Timo Koivurova. Host institute is the University of Lapland.

II. Background

The need for the creation of a Thematic Network in the field of Arctic law under the auspices of the University of Arctic’s Thematic Network Program, has been recently realized. The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law at the Arctic Centre in the University of Lapland has taken the initiative up, and invited prominent Arctic law scholars to join the initiative. In response to the invitation, around fifty five legal experts including scholars from Russia expressed their willingness to actively take part in the process. While the scholars expressed their enthusiasm to establish such a Thematic Network, with the help of both the University of the Arctic and University of Lapland (international relations of the University) proposed leader of the Thematic Network convene a small planning meeting in Äkäslompolo, Finland between 14 and 18 December 2010. In addition to the scholars from the proposed host institution, four foreign scholars (from Canada, Norway and the United States) took part in the meeting. The meeting has been concluded with insightful ideas in terms of planning, organizing and functioning of the thematic network. The process has also included the feedbacks received earlier (in response to an email questionnaire) from the other members of the proposed thematic network.

III. Significance

In recent years legal issues in the Arctic has gained especial significance as the region is undergoing a huge transformation. This transformation is mainly due to double pressures of economic globalization and climate change, which causes diverse challenges to the existing legal structures functioning in the region. There are plenty of topical issues to deal with. They include: outer continental shelf law in the Arctic Ocean, legal questions related to the opening Arctic seas, rights of Arctic indigenous peoples, biodiversity law, oil and gas related regulations etcetera.

As a result, it has increasingly become clear that the Arctic needs legal expertise. The region has certainly served as a laboratory for natural sciences, and to some extent social sciences (such as anthropology), but there has been an obvious lack of legal expertise. This has also had clear impacts on actual policy-making in the Arctic, most dramatically, for example, shown by the misunderstandings related to the “race to resources” story-line spread by the media after the Russians had planted their flag underneath the North Pole over Lomonosov ridge. The idea marketed by the media – and to some extent researchers as well – is that the reason behind the Arctic Ocean coastal states continental shelf “claims” over the sea bed was climate change and its effect in opening a new Ocean with vast hydrocarbon resources. The first international Polar Law Symposium organized from 7-10 September 2008 in Akureyri, Iceland was able to convey the message of legal experts that there was no scramble for resources, but instead an orderly development based on the law of the sea and the UN Law of the Sea Convention (LOS Convention). It was this conference and others that have by now clarified that indeed the continental shelf developments took place – at least so far – fully in observance of the law of the sea and LOS Convention in the Arctic.

Hence, there is an increasing need for Arctic legal expertise and for a Thematic Network dedicated for this purpose. When Professor Nigel Bankes from the University of Calgary led the Arctic Council sponsored Arctic human development report's legal chapter during the years 2002-2004, the region still suffered from a lack of legal experts working on the Arctic issues. This has changed in the past few years, and is also manifested with the emergence of specialist journals in this field, such as the Yearbook of Polar Law (published by Brill) and the Arctic Review of Law and Politics (Gyldendal). This has also been noted in the University of the Arctic (circumpolar university network, with huge number of universities and other higher level educational institutions as members), which has for some time nurtured this idea under its Thematic Network Program.

IV. Objectives

a. Building a network of Arctic legal experts.
b. Research cooperation amongst the members of the thematic network.
c. Cooperation with other thematic network in order to undertake multi-disciplinary research projects.
d. Organizing seminars and conferences in order to disseminate Arctic legal questions to the wider audiences.
e. Contribution in the development of legal education focusing on Arctic issues.
f. Taking part in the preparation of joint funding applications along with other members and member institutions of the Thematic Network.

Our annual goals for 2013


1) Enhancing international communication of the network members by different means; for instance, creating a newsletter where different members of the network would be able to report about their activities, invite for co-operation etc. Creation of such communication platform should allow network members to be more aware of each other’s various activities, initiatives and projects, as well as should strengthen the visibility of the TN.
2) Organising a seminar on Arctic Law; with a goal to create a research project and mobility grant system for Master and PhD students as well as for researchers
3) Strengthening the cooperation between the different sub-groups and other Thematic Networks
4) Organising international conferences and seminars together with the sub-groups
5) Actively seeking funding for the events and coordination of the Network as well as for the student and research mobility between different institutions
6) Applying an extensive EU Doctoral School funding for establishing an Arctic Law and Politics Graduate School

V. Organization and Implementation

Although the Thematic Network will be coordinated by the lead institution, there will be a number of sub-groups dealing with specific issue areas. The sub-groups will work independently. They will nevertheless operate under the umbrella of the Arctic Law Thematic Network. The central idea for each of the sub-groups is that the group will gain ownership of its work. In the planning phase it has been decided that the following sub-groups will immediately be established with a possibility to increase the number:

  • Sub-group on Indigenous Peoples’ law (Leader: Professor Øyvind Ravna, University of Tromsø).
  • Sub-group on Oil and Gas Legislation (Leader: Associate Professor Betsy Baker, Vermont School of Law).
  • Sub-group on Arctic Governance (Leader: Natalia Loukacheva, University of Toronto)


VI. Indigenous Peoples Issues

The Thematic Network on Arctic Law is an important venue for highlighting the importance of rights of indigenous peoples. The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law as well as other member institutions have a high level and long established expertise related to indigenous peoples’ rights. Close cooperation with indigenous peoples themselves and other stakeholders, as well as the multidisciplinary approach towards issues dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights guarantee multidimensional and multiparadigmatic outcomes.

Especially the work of the subgroup on Indigenous Peoples’ Law accommodates the recommendations from the meetings of The Arctic Centre Scientific Advisory Board from February 2011, which state: "Recognizing the central importance of the Arctic Centre's focus on issues facing northern populations and indigenous peoples the Board notes that the Arctic Centre could also be an important venue for conveying these issues to non-northern populations through its Science Centre.”

The sub-group of Indigenous Peoples Law is led by the University of Tromsø, including also other members of the Thematic Network. Many of the researchers themselves belong to the indigenous population, which provides deep understanding of the issues.

VII. Quality Control

The emphasis in the Arctic Law Thematic Network will be put on stringent policy with regard to the activities to be undertaken. All research reports will be peer-reviewed by multiple reviewers. Publication of the results will be made in the peer-reviewed scientific journals of high quality. The leaders of the sub-groups will meet time to time when necessary and when it is feasible, and decide on the measures to be undertaken. They will discuss on the special needs for the proper functioning of the network. Also in its yearly meeting of the Thematic Network the participants will come up with further quality control mechanisms.

VIII. Cooperation with TN Northern Governance and TN Geopolitics and Security

Due to the topical overlaps between the proposed Thematic Network on Arctic Law and the Thematic Network on Northern Governance as well as the Thematic Network on Geopolitics and Security, a close cooperation amongst the three will be established. This is particularly relevant for the Subgroup on Arctic Governance, which will approach issues dealt with in the Thematic Network on Northern Governance from a legal perspective only, while also including the traditional legal systems of Arctic indigenous peoples. Therefore, the Thematic Network on Arctic Law as well as the Thematic Network on Northern Governance will mutually complement their work. It is therefore important to include members of the already existing Thematic Networks in the information exchange of the proposed subgroups in order to avoid redundancies in the work. In the long run, cooperative publications are possible.

IX. Planned activities

Both short term and long term activities are planned for the Thematic Network. At the initial stage the aim of the network is to design get-together seminars where members will participate and discuss the issues of interest. The whole idea is to strengthen the tie among the members of the Thematic Network. As for a long term goal the network aims to develop or participate in the development of the Master’s program on Arctic Law. In its early stage, the Thematic Network will undertake the following activities:

• The proposed Thematic Network, after its establishment, will virtually discuss other possibilities amongst the members, which are planned to be undertaken.
• The major event the Thematic Network plans undertakes is to co-organize Polar Law Symposiums.
• Under the auspices of the Thematic Network, funding applications will be prepared for research or network consortium projects in response to various funding calls, such as from the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Chosen planned activities in 2013

1) Vice-lead Tanja Joona will participate to the next TN chairs meeting which will be held during the week 5 (Jan 28 – Feb 1, 2013) at Northern Arctic Federal University in Arkhangelsk, Russia.
2) Tanja Joona, Timo Koivurova and Nikolas Sellheim will participate to the International Law Review Symposium on Feb 21- 22, 2013 in Michigan, USA (The Final Battle for the North).
3) The VI Polar Law Symposium will be organised on 22-24.8.2013 in Akureyri, Iceland
4) Arctic Law Thematic Network Project development seminar in Lapland, end of 2013. To plan a research project application and mobility grant system as well as introducing the Arctic Law Newsletter.
5) The other Vice-lead Leena Heinämäki, together with prof. Thora Herrmann from the University of Montreal with participation of Florian Stammler and lead by him TN on Extractive Industries will organize a Conference on the Protection of Sacred Sites of Indigenous Peoples (11-13 September 2013, Rovaniemi) and work on developing an broader multidisciplinary research project on the topic.
6) Development of a concept for a Doctoral Programme on the Arctic issues.

 

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September near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. For many decades, Kangerlussuaq hosted US military base and currently it is the location of the main airport of Greenland. The issues of militarization and influences of security concerns on the legal and governance developments in the Arctic are at the core of Thematic Network on Arctic Law academic cooperation.