Workshop: Reconciling the Rule of Law with Adaptive Governance of Marine Ecosystems

Challenges and Opportunities for the Arctic and Beyond

Illustration: Arctic landscape (Colourbox) 

This workshop addresses the question of how law can facilitate adaptive management of marine ecosystems without overlooking important rule of law values such as predictability, legal certainty, consistency and coherence, public participation and accountability.

The workshop sheds light on the possible challenges and opportunities for reconciling adaptive management and -regulation with the rule of law in the Arctic marine region. The Arctic is particularly interesting due to its high ecological values and important ecosystems services, its changing nature as a result of climate change, and the level of scientific uncertainty currently present.



Over the past 50 years, humans have changed marine ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period in human history. These changes have been the effect of meeting growing needs for living and non-living marine resources, shipping, and the need for marine space for economic and social development. The cumulative effects of these development activities are increasingly crippling the marine ecosystems.


The ecosystem approach

Marine ecosystems need to maintain their core functions (resilience) to cater for the various human uses. Accordingly, the ecosystem approach has been the governance concept of choice for the international and European policymakers alike. This work has resulted in several legal and semi-legal instruments within OSPAR, HELCOM, and the European Union, and the like. One common strand in many areas of international and EU marine regulation is a call for adaptive management and -governance which would facilitate a close linkage between the latest scientific knowledge on the condition and functioning of the marine environment on the one hand, and the management of human activities at sea on the other. The effectiveness of marine governance requires a solid scientific basis, yet one is often lacking. Nowhere are these scientific uncertainties greater than in the Arctic.

Illustration: Colourbox

Adaptive management vs. the rule of law

As both the management and the regulation of the marine environment are limited by significant gaps and uncertainties in scientific knowledge, adaptive management and -regulation of human activities at sea may require uncomfortable concessions from the traditional rule of law values, such as certainty of licenses and permits to utilise marine areas and resources. Yet, scientific knowledge may also require the rule of law to drive changes to socio-economic practices that are environmentally harmful. Here, adaptive regulation may be problematic if the political discretion in environmental management is not sufficiently controlled by the law. The level of scientific uncertainty is closely linked to what kind of regulation is needed to achieve environmental and other policy goals.

Published Jan. 12, 2018 2:55 PM - Last modified June 15, 2018 2:50 PM