law of the sea, international environmental law, OSPAR, North-East Atlantic Ocean
The international community has committed itself to establishing a coherent network of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2012. This network should also extend to areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), namely the high seas and the ‘Area’ (the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction). This article examines the pioneering efforts of OSPAR to establish MPAs in ABNJ in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. In that connection, OSPAR has to work out how to deal with the applicable international governance and regulatory framework, most importantly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the various ‘competent’ international organizations functioning thereunder. The article’s most important conclusion is that an effective regime for ABNJ in general and also for holistic MPAs in ABNJ requires complementary action at the global and regional levels. OSPAR’s pioneering approach may, if pursued carefully – among other things by respecting the competence of other global and regional bodies – have a decisive impact on the development of the global legal regime in respect of the role of regional environmental organizations in the management of ABNJ.