Non-use measures for global goods and commons in international law

Workshop report: potential effects and success of non-use proposals

Photo by NOAA (King crab caught in Bering Sea on research cruise)

Most resource management measures at the international level focus on the conditions under which use of some resources is allowed. In certain cases, however, States decide to adopt and implement non-use measures: measures that ban a certain use altogether or restrict (certain types of) use in certain areas. With the increasing pressure on natural resources, in particular those considered global goods and commons, and in order to implement the precautionary approach, non-use measures might need to be further promoted and adopted. To investigate this theme further, a workshop was held at Utrecht University on 8-9 May 2023, specifically addressing these four topics: the high seas, Antarctica, deep-sea mining, and the atmosphere and outer space.

Catherine Blanchard and Solène Guggisberg, both researchers at Utrecht University School of Law, developed a project to study key areas of resource management under a new angle, that of non-use, with a view to assessing the potential effects and success of proposals that are presently under discussion. With the aim to publish a book on the subject, they organized a workshop on Non-use measures for global goods and commons in international law. It was supported by the projects Proactive Management of Antarctic Tourism (a collaboration between the University of Groningen, Utrecht University (UCWOSL/NILOS), and Wageningen University & Research) and Protecting deep seabed hydrothermal vent fields through area-based management tools (a collaboration between Utrecht University (UCWOSL/NILOS) and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)). The workshop brought together experts from both academia and practice.

A total of 20 contributions were presented on non-use measures in the management of global goods and commons. Solène Guggisberg presented a paper on the conceptual framework of non-use and non-use measures. While the obvious definition of non-use measures seems to be measures demanding the absence of use, the concept of use proves complicated to delineate, as is the exact limit between restricting an activity and managing it. The rest of the contributions were divided along four research themes: the high seas, Antarctica, deep-sea mining, and the atmosphere and outer space. These presentations addressed topics as varied as whaling, Antarctic tourism, areas of particular environmental interest in the international seabed, and solar geo-engineering. Some presentations focused on non-use measures that exist, analyzing issues such as the conditions that have led to their adoption. Other presentations examined non-use measures that are under discussion, whether in international fora or in academic circles.