The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic nations are all members of the Arctic Council, as are organizations representing six indigenous populations. The Council operates on consensus basis, mostly dealing with environmental treaties and not addressing boundary or resource disputes. Though Arctic policy priorities differ, every Arctic nation is concerned about sovereignty/security, resource development, shipping routes, and environmental protection (climate change). Much work remains on regulatory agreements regarding shipping, tourism, and resource development in Arctic waters. Scientific research in the Arctic has long been a collaborative international effort.
Unlike Antarctica, a continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents. For this reason, it is governed in large part by the law of the sea, a body of unwritten but nevertheless binding rules of customary international law which were codified into the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Territorial disputes are absent in the Arctic, but, there are several existing or potential disputes over maritime boundaries and possible international straits that will likely become more important due to climate change, rising prices for natural resources, and new security concerns. As the Arctic is in crisis, international law has an important role to play, now and in the future.
Antarctica is Earth's fifth-largest and southernmost continent. It is located in the Antarctic region of the southern hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice. It has no human population of its own, except for some permanent manned scientific research stations. Seven sovereign states have claimed sectors of land in Antarctica, but none of these claims have been recognized by other countries. In 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington to establish Antarctica as a region of peace and cooperation, and to deal with issues relating to claims of sovereignty. Its primary purpose is to ensure “in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord”. The Treaty is at the core of a number of related agreements which, together with the measures taken under the Antarctic Treaty and related agreements are often called the Antarctic Treaty system.
This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for legal research on the Polar Regions. It provides the basic materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject headings (keywords) Polar Regions, Arctic, Antarctica and Antarctic Treaty (Washington, D.C., 1 December 1959) are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.
Sources of international law
- Bush, W.M. (ed.), Antarctica and International Law: A Collection of Inter-State and National Documents, New York, NY, Oceana Publications, 1991-2003.
- Hoitink, C. (ed.), A(nta)rctic Law: Selected Documents, The Hague, International Courts Association, 2011.
- Saul, B. and T. Stephens (eds.), Antarctica in International Law, Oxford, Hart Publishing Ltd, 2015.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. It entered into force in 1961 and has since been acceded to by many other nations. The total number of Parties to the Treaty is now 54.
- Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid, 1991)
- Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS, London, 1972)
- Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, Canberra, 1980)
Although CCAS and CCAMLR are independent agreements, they contain provisions committing their Parties to essential parts of the Antarctic Treaty such as Article IV which deals with the legal status of territorial claims. The Environment Protocol is open to accession by Antarctic Treaty Parties only.
- Byers, M., International Law and the Arctic, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- Dodds, K., The Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Francioni, F. and T. Scovazzi (eds.), International Law for Antarctica, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 1996.
- Jensen, L.Ch. and G. Hønneland (eds.), Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic, Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015.
- Lalonde, S. and T.L. McDorman (eds.), International Law and Politics of the Arctic Ocean: essays in honor of Donat Pharand, Leiden; Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.
- Stokke, O.S., Governing the Antarctic: the Effectiveness and Legitimacy of the Antarctic Treaty System, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Triggs, G. (ed.), Antarctica: Legal and Environmental Challenges for the Future, London, BIICL, 2007.
Selected books and articles
- Abdel-Motaal, D., Antarctica: the Battle for the Seventh Continent, Santa Barbara, CA, Praeger, 2016.
- Chan-Tung, L. et S. Lavorel (dir.), L'Antarctique: enjeux et perspectives juridiques, Paris, Editions A. Pedone, 2021.
- Crawford, J., "The Antarctic Treaty after 50 Years", in D. French, M. Saul and N.D. White (eds.), International Law and Dispute Settlement : New Problems and Techniques, Oxford, Hart, 2010, pp. 271-296.
- Dahl, I., Jensen, Ø. (red.), Svalbardtraktaten 100 år et jubileumsskrift, Bergen, Fagbokforlaget, 2020.
- Dodds, K. and M. Nutall, The Scramble for the Poles: the Geopolitics of the Arctic and Antarctic, Cambridge; Malden, Polity Press, 2016.
- Finger, M. and G. Rekvig (eds), Global Arctic: An Introduction to the Multifaceted Dynamics of the Arctic, Cham, Springer, 2022.
- Hughes, T., "The Antarctic Treaty System", New Zealand Yearbook of International Law, 6 (2008), pp. 331-333.
- Jabour, J., "The Antarctic Treaty System: What's on the Horizon?", The Yearbook on Polar Law, 4 (2012), pp. 709-722.
- Joyner, C.C., "Challenges to the Antarctic Treaty: Looking Back to See Ahead", New Zealand Yearbook of International Law, 6 (2008), pp. 25-62.
- Liggett, D., "An Erosion of Confidence? The Antarctic Treaty System in the Twenty-first Century", in Diplomacy on Ice: Energy and the Environment in the Arctic and Antarctic, New Haven; London, Yale University Press, 2015, pp. 61-71.
- McGee, J., D. Edmiston and M. Haward, The Future of Antarctica: Scenarios from Classical Geopolitics, Singapore, Springer, 2022.
- Morgera, E., "Antarctic Treaty System: Recent Developments", Environmental Policy and Law, 39 (2009), Nos. 4-5, pp. 221-223.
- Nord, D.C., The Changing Arctic: Consensus Building and Governance in the Arctic Council, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
- Nordquist, M.H., Moore, J.N. and Long, R. (eds.), Challenges of the Changing Arctic: Continental Shelf, Navigation and Fisheries, Leiden, Brill, 2016.
- Rothwell, D.R., "The IPY and the Antarctic Treaty System: Reflections 50 Years Later", in J.M. Shadian and M. Tennberg (eds.), Legacies and Change in Polar Sciences: Historical, Legal and Political Reflections on the International Polar Year, Farnham, Ashgate, 2009, pp. 125-144.
Periodicals, serial publications
- Antarctic and Southern Ocean Law and Policy Occasional Papers
- Antarctic Journal of the United States
- Arctic Review on Law and Politics
- The Yearbook of Polar Law
- Blay, S.K.N., R.W. Piotrowicz and B.M. Tsamenyi, Antarctica: A Selected Annotated Legal and Political Bibliography, S.l., Law School, University of Tasmania, 1989.
- Orrego Vicuna, F., Antarctic Bibliography: With Particular Reference to the Legal and Political Issues of Co-operation and the Regime on Mineral Resources, Santiago de Chile, Institute of International Studies of the University of Chile, 1987.
Key documents of the Antarctic Treaty System (Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty)
This section provides access to two publications:
Compilation of key documents of the Antarctic Treaty System: This publication includes the Antarctic Treaty itself, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS) and the main regulations for the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.
Rules of Procedure of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Committee for Environmental Protection: Updated annually, this publication also includes listings of the Antarctic Meetings and of the countries that participate in the Antarctic Treaty System.
- Antarctica, by Silja Vöneky and Sange Addison-Agyei
- Arctic Region, by Michael Byers
- Barents Sea, by Suzanna Lalonde
- Bering Sea, by Rüdiger Wolfrum
- Dispute Settlement under the Antarctic Treaty System, by Donald R. Rothwell
- Northwest Passage (Canadian-Amercican Controversy), by Günther Handl
- Norway-Russia Maritime Delimitation (2010), by Sondre Torp Helmersen
- Spitsbergen/Svalbard, by Geir Ulfstein
A trusted reference work in international law, the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, as well as the newly-launched Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Procedural Law. The two Encyclopedias can be searched and browsed together, or separately by using appropriate filters.
The Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty is located in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Argentine Government provides the office for the Secretariat and the Headquarters Agreement describes the relationship between the ATCM and the Argentine Republic with respect to the Secretariat’s operations in Argentina. The Secretariat and its work are funded by the Consultative Parties. The Secretariat’s budget is approved each year at the ATCM while Financial Regulations govern its management.
- Arctic Centre (University of Lapland)
The Arctic Centre is a national and international hub of information and centre of excellence which conducts multidisciplinary research in changes in the Arctic region. It is located in the Arktikum House, Rovaniemi, Finland.
This Library includes a special collection of published and unpublished material and a digital collection of documents and papers covering all aspects of the Antarctic Treaty system. The material is catalogued using the international standard Dublin Core. Browsing tools are available to search the online catalogue.
Access to other materials is available to interested researchers or libraries.
The Australian Antarctic Division, based in Hobart, Tasmania, is part of the Australian Government's Department of the Environment and Energy and is responsible for Australia’s presence and activities in the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Southern Ocean. The Division leads Australia’s Antarctic Program.
British Antarctic Survey (BAS), an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (UKRI-NERC)*, delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth and our impact on it.
The Polar Law Institute is a non-profit research and education institution and operates within the University of Akureyri. It was established together and in cooperation with the Polar Law Programme at the University.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is an inter-disciplinary committee of the International Science Council (ISC). SCAR is charged with initiating, developing and coordinating high quality international scientific research in the Antarctic region (including the Southern Ocean), and on the role of the Antarctic region in the Earth system. The scientific business of SCAR is conducted by its Science Groups which represent the scientific disciplines active in Antarctic research and report to SCAR.