Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

Ocean Acidification: A Litmus Test for International Law

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Ocean acidification, the changing chemistry of the oceans as a result of the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is caused by the atmospheric pollutant that is also the main driver of anthropogenic climate change, having effects on the marine environment as serious as other pollutants entering the oceans. However there is no discernible pressure for a new regime to address the problem specifically, given the extensive body of law already in existence that could potentially be applicable. This article assesses the two main environmental regimes that appear to have obvious application – the climate change regime and the marine pollution regime. It is argued that while the phenomenon is partially regulated by both of these regimes, it is addressed wholeheartedly by neither. Ocean acidification therefore exists in an international legal twilight zone, a regrettable position given the serious threat it presents to the ecological integrity of the world’s oceans. By reference to international relations scholarship relating to regime complexity, it suggests a possible way forward in addressing ocean acidification as a cross-cutting environmental challenge.

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