Do we need a Law of Ice?

29.11.2012 9:52
The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, located in the Arctic Centre, is organizing a workshop to address the question of how governance of the Arctic and other ice-covered regions could be facilitated by a new Law of Ice.

“Attention is increasingly turning to the Arctic as a region of heightened incorporation into the global political economy, as evidenced by intensifying resource extraction, trade flows, and the like. As this is occurring, questions persist regarding the governance of a territory whose geophysical properties are markedly different than those of the temperate world that inspired the modern state system”, tells Research Professor Timo Koivurova about the background of the workshop.

The prevalent system of territorial, land-based nation-states is based on implicit assumptions about a binary, stable, and easily intelligible geophysical division between land and water. Land is perceived as consisting of points in which stable inhabitation occurs. Water is legally constructed as an external space that exists to be crossed or exploited so as to aid the development of the aforementioned land territories. This division is codified in public international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and, more broadly, the norms of state sovereignty.

“However, this idealized geophysical division of space that is reproduced by the global legal regime does not easily translate to the Arctic. In an ice-covered environment, frozen water can be a central space of habitation. Conversely, frozen land, remote from southern capitals, provides only limited opportunities for spatially-fixed investment, development, and state control. The division between land and water is often not readily apparent to individuals on the ground, and it is further complicated by the variety of different water- and land-covers. Additionally, the physical condition of both land and water is highly variable over time, both seasonally and in the longer term due to climate change and even geological change”, reminds Research Professor Timo Koivurova.

To address these issues, the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland and Professor Phil Steinberg, Marie Curie Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, are convening a workshop at the Arctic Centre on 3rd December 2012. This workshop will initiate what is intended to be a multi-stage research programme that will ultimately produce a model law of ice. The model law, by transcending the assumed land-sea binary that underpins the modern state system, will explore new directions for the future of ice-covered regions.

More information:
Research Professor Timo Koivurova, tel. +358 40 551 9522, timo.koivurova (at)