Environmental protection in the Antarctic and the Arctic: The role of international law

Kees Bastmeijer, Rachael Johnstone

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This chapter examines international systems and instruments that protect the environments of the Polar Regions, with particular attention to the Antarctic Treaty System and the Arctic Council. While recognizing the differences between both regions in terms of geography, population, history, sovereignty, natural resource activities and decision-making frameworks, the chapter considers the principles of cooperation, prevention, precaution and sustainable use. It also evaluates the role of environmental impact assessments, area and species protection, legal responses to climate change and (for the Arctic only) the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty creates legally-binding obligations on Antarctic actors with some of the strongest provisions anywhere in the World. However, the states involved in the system clearly experience difficulties in agreeing on pro-active responses to new environmental challenges. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, state sovereignty is the starting point but sovereignty is contested within states by Indigenous Peoples and there is increasing cooperation on environmental matters through the Arctic Council, primarily through non-binding initiatives. There is strong commitment to environmental protection at both Poles but the regimes are vulnerable to institutional weaknesses just as the Polar environments are vulnerable to global changes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook on International Environmental Law
EditorsPanos Merkouris, Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Marcel Brus
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic)9781786439710
ISBN (Print)9781786439703
Publication statusPublished - 12-Nov-2021
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameResearch Handbooks in International Law


  • Arctic
  • Antarctic
  • international environmental law
  • governance
  • Polar Regions
  • environmental impact assessment
  • tourism
  • geo-politics
  • climate change
  • wilderness
  • biodiversity

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