Activities at sea are continuing to increase. Besides fishing, navigation and shipping, oceans today are home to wind farms and drilling platforms too. All of the above are regulated in different international instruments, conventions and treaties, guidelines, sometimes bilaterally, sometimes at a regional or global level. And per sector too. Unfortunately, barely any alignment at all exists between international regulations relating to the sea, environment, energy and the climate. If lawyer Seline Trevisanut has her way, this is a situation that will change in the very near future. She is using her ERC Starting Grant to do research on the consolidation of various international rules and regulations. Her object: to ensure that the law contributes to the sustainable management of the oceans.
"The offshore sector is growing fast," the researcher explains, who completed her education in Italy. "Technological developments mean that it has now become possible to extract raw materials from deep sea areas, and we are building more and more energy parks out at sea. This increased activity, which sometimes involves major risks, and the often opposing interests involved, are putting the oceans under pressure. Two recent oil disasters out at sea - BP in the Gulf of Mexico and the Montara disaster in Indonesia - have brought the risks home to us once again."
Trevisanut: "There is often a complete absence of any kind of connection between regulations. For example, the Law of the Sea Convention, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Energy Charter Treaty all have their own standards and enforcement systems." So, assessment and alignment are definitely worthwhile. This expert in international law also has an ideal in mind. "Although sustainable management is the guiding principle - maintaining biodiversity, limiting climate change, protecting the local population - there is also a focus on the continuation of economic activities and effective energy production."
According to Trevisanut, great gains will already have been made if the rules and regulations at various levels and in force in various regimes are identified and links established between law of the sea, climate law and energy law. By applying a number of different theories on conflict resolution and regime interaction, Trevisanut will be able to create order in the current maze of rules, regulations and interests. Having done this, her research team will identify which legal tools can be used. Briefs and recommendations, for example. References in one convention or treaty to another convention or treaty could also establish the links required. "This is the first time for theories on regime interaction to be applied to the law of the sea. In time, I will develop my own theory on conflicting interests. If our approach proves successful, it will be possible to apply it to other sectors of international law."
In a bid to involve various interested parties in this process, Trevisanut is setting up a Steering Committee. "I hope that operators, NGOs and treaty organisations will all take part. This will ensure that far greater support is achieved for our research. Ultimately, all of these parties have an interest in good long-term management."
Bilateral conventions and treaties
However, the research does have its limitations. "We have little insight into the bilateral conventions and treaties that exist between individual countries or into contracts between countries and international companies." However, this will not deter Trevisanut. "International law co-determines the scope that exists for bilateral conventions and treaties. A coherent system will make the world of difference." Added to this, five years is far too short a period of time for all of the oceans. "A system will not suffice," the researcher adds. "Rules and regulations vary from one ocean to another and the technologies used in them, that depend, for example, on the seabed, the temperature, the depth and the minerals present. We will focus initially on the oceans around Europe, such as the North Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. EU regulations apply in these oceans as well: an extra layer of regulation. We will also analyse the multi-user oceans of Australia and Singapore and the deep sea mining area around the island of Tonga."
Trevisanut is fascinated by the development of international law. As a young researcher, her first source of inspiration was a wonderful professor (Prof. Tullio Treves) who combined science with participation in international forums for the conservation of the sea. She wanted to do the same. All being well, she is set to achieve this ambition. "I feel that I've found my niche here at the internationally renowned Netherlands Institute for the Law of the Sea (NILOS). This ERC award is giving me the kick-start I need."
Text: Youetta Visser