The South China Sea Arbitration: Environmental Obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention
Tác giả: Yoshifumi Tanaka
Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law, Số 27(1): 90 – 96
This case note analyses the marine environmental protection issues that arose in the 2016 South China Sea arbitration. Given that the South China Sea includes highly productive fisheries and extensive coral reef ecosystems, the alleged breach of environmental obligations under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea was important in this arbitration. The Arbitral Tribunal examined three obligations concerning marine environmental protection under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: the obligation of due diligence; the obligation to conduct an environmental impact assessment; and the obligation to cooperate. The Tribunal’s arbitral award contributes to the clarification of the interpretation of relevant provisions concerning marine environmental protection under the Convention. Furthermore, a remarkable feature of the arbitration was that the Tribunal appointed experts to have an independent opinion with regard to environmental damages arising from China’s activities in the South China Sea. The use of experts in the South China Sea arbitration is worth noting, since scientific evidence is of particular importance in the settlement of international environmental disputes.
This case note examined four environmental issues in the South China Sea arbitration: the obligation of due diligence; the obligation to conduct an environmental impact assessment; the obligation to cooperate; and the use of experts. The above consideration can be summarized in three points.
First, it is significant that the Tribunal recognized application of the due diligence obligation to the protection of rare or fragile ecosystems and the habitat of endangered species. In this regard, the Tribunal’s systemic approach to treaty interpretation merits particular note. It is also noteworthy that the Tribunal specified two components of the obligation of due diligence: (i) a duty to adopt rules and measures to prevent harmful acts; and (ii) a duty to maintain a level of vigilance in enforcing those rules and measures.
Second, the Tribunal found a breach of obligations under Article 206 concerning environmental impact assessment because of a lack of communication. Given that it may be hard to determine whether a State properly carried out an environmental impact assessment, the Tribunal’s approach to focus on the non-fulfilment of a procedural requirement, that is, communication, is noteworthy.
Third, the Rules of Procedure of the South China Sea arbitration provided a process to secure the independence and impartiality of experts appointed by the Tribunal. This procedural innovation can be expected to contribute to enhancing the transparency of the Tribunal’s decisions on scientific evidence. Overall the South China Sea arbitration provides useful insights into the interpretation and application of relevant provisions of the LOSC with regard to marine environmental protection.
Yoshifumi Tanaka là Giáo sư Luật Quốc tế tại Khoa Luật thuộc Đại học Copenhagen, với trọng tâm cụ thể là Luật biển. Ông cũng là thành viên của Trung tâm Trách nhiệm doanh nghiệp (CEVIA).
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