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International Environmental Law - Polar Oceans Governance in an Era of Environmental Change edited by Tim STEPHENS and David L. VANDERZWAAG. Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2014. xv + 354 pp. Hardcover: £90.

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Polar Oceans Governance in an Era of Environmental Change edited by Tim STEPHENS and David L. VANDERZWAAG. Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2014. xv + 354 pp. Hardcover: £90.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 January 2017

Nengye LIU*
University of Adelaide
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Book Reviews
© Asian Journal of International Law 2017 

The polar regions have experienced significant environmental changes in recent decades. Global warming, ocean acidification, and shifting sea ice pose significant challenges to the unique and fragile marine ecosystems of the Arctic and Antarctica. Moreover, increased human activities, such as fishing, shipping, and tourism threaten the pristine wilderness of the polar regions.

Against this backdrop, an important book on polar oceans governance in an era of environmental change was recently published. The editors, Tim Stephens and David VanderZwaag, are both leading scholars in marine and polar studies. In addition, the publication includes an impressive interdisciplinary array of distinguished scholars from the fields of international law, political science, and geography. This multidisciplinary approach is essential to address polar governance issues.

The book consists of five parts. Part I describes environmental changes in the polar regions; Part II discusses power politics and regime building at the poles; Part III provides a “bipolar” perspective on resource management and environmental protection arising at both poles. Part IV addresses national and foreign policy responses to polar ocean governance challenges. The final part (Part V) on the future of polar ocean governance is the highlight of the book. In this concluding section, Davis’s chapter examines the durability of the Antarctic regime, while VanderZwaag reviews how the Arctic Council has advanced the governance agenda.

Though an important contribution to the field, there are a few issues that bear mentioning. First, in the preface, the co-editors mention that “the book assesses how an oceans governance agenda is being advanced in the dynamic ocean regions”. I wonder whether this is a research question or the method in which the research agenda is being advanced. If it is the research question, I do not find a detailed answer to this question, other than VanderZwaag’s contribution (Chapter 16). Second, according to the title, the book is intended to take a “bipolar” approach, comparing how oceans governance questions are being addressed in both polar regions. It is an excellent book with chapters analyzing pressing concerns in the Arctic and Antarctica, but there is little comparative analysis. Stephens’ earlier work acknowledges the limits of Polar comparativism.Footnote 3 Nevertheless, the book would have been strengthened by the inclusion in Part V of a chapter drawing out ways in which the Arctic and Antarctica could learn from each other to better address governance challenges.


3. STEPHENS, Tim, “The Arctic and Antarctic Regimes and the Limits of Polar Comparativism” (2011) 54 German Journal of International Law 316 Google Scholar.