A two-day conference at King’s College London brought together leading practitioners and scholars to examine pressing challenges of maritime peace, security and environmental protection. ‘Stress Testing the Law of the Sea: Dispute Resolution, Disasters and New Challenges’ was held on 30 September and 1 October 2016 at Somerset House East Wing. The conference was hosted by the Transnational Law Institute (TLI) in collaboration with the Law of the Sea Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (LOSI), with additional sponsorship from The Honorable G. William and Ariadna Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law, Berkeley Law. I convened the conference together with Jordan Diamond, Executive Director, LOSI.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is widely acknowledged as a standout success in UN treaty-making. However, like many domestic constitutional orders, the current diffusion of power and agency to a complex array of state, non-state, transnational and domestic actors creates challenges for implementation. Simultaneously, the rapid processes of globalisation have increased stress on key regimes of public international law, including UNCLOS. These changes spur the need for reflection on the current state of the law of the sea framework for dispute resolution, environmental protection, disaster response and the overarching maintenance of an open, rules-based order for the oceans. The conference sessions explored the emerging plurality of public, private, and hybrid forms of governance and norm creation.

The conference hosted three keynote addresses. Judge Vladimir Golitsyn, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, discussed the ‘Settlement of International Disputes related to the Use of Natural Resources under UNCLOS’. Professor Gudmundur Eiriksson, Executive Director of the Centre for International Legal Studies at Jindal Global Law School, spoke on ‘Forty Years of the Law of the Sea: Some Lessons Learned’. Professor Kristina Gjerde, Senior High Seas Policy Advisor to IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, gave a presentation on ‘Marine Conservation beyond Boundaries: Protecting Biodiversity in the High Seas and Seabed Area’, following the recent 2nd Session of the Preparatory Committee on the protection of biological diversity in areas of the sea beyond national jurisdiction.

Under the theme of ‘Stress Testing the Law of the Sea’, conference sessions focused on two broad stressors: geopolitical change and environmental crisis. Panels examined developments in public international law, maritime dispute arbitration, the geopolitics of the law of the sea, the disputes over the South China Sea, formal and informal dispute resolution, climate change and oceans law, extreme weather events and disaster risk reduction, and maritime energy exploration. Presenters included Professor David D Caron, Professor of International Law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, on international law and sea level rise, Professor Erik Franckx, President of the Department of International and European Law, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on the defaulting party phenomenon in UNCLOS arbitrations and Frederick J Kenney, Director of Legal and External Affairs at the International Maritime Organization, on dispute resolution and dispute avoidance in the IMO.

‘Stress testing the law of the sea’ featured innovative thinking on the application of law to the pressing challenges of our oceans, as well as realist examination of some of the present collisions of legal doctrine and practice with geopolitical and environmental ‘facts on the ground’. The conference was attended by postgraduate and undergraduate students, legal practitioners and members of the broader policy community. Full details of participant biographies, presentation abstracts and the conference programme are available online.

Participating in the session on extreme weather events & disaster risk reduction with Prof. Holly Doremus and Prof. Anastasia Telesetsky.