Scholars and policy makers are increasingly aware of the challenges that ice – and particularly the sea ice of the polar regions – poses to regulatory norms and political institutions based on Western legal frameworks.

To address these challenges, researchers at IBRU, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research, formed the ICE LAW Project. The Project’s first event was the Workshop on International Law, State Sovereignty, and the Ice-Land-Water Interface, held in June 2014 in Durham, England, with support from the University of the Arctic’s Thematic Network on Arctic Law.

The workshop brought together twenty-two scholars with expertise in cultural anthropology, state theory, political geography, and legal studies to address sea-ice related questions. While twelve of the participants were Arctic experts, the other ten were selected because they lacked Arctic expertise but instead could bring provocative comparative and conceptual perspectives to the table.

At the most practical level, the workshop sought to identify gaps resulting from regulatory failure to recognise sea ice and to suggest ways that these gaps might be filled through new legal instruments.

At a more conceptual level, the workshop sought to explore how the absence of a comprehensive regime for sea ice was reflective of a systemic disjuncture between, on the one hand, temperate-zone-derived legal and political principles and, on the other hand, the realities of the ways in which indigenous peoples, non-indigenous residents, and outside investors and states encounter the Arctic environment.

Finally, participants sought to develop follow-up research projects that would contribute to understanding how political and regulatory systems might adapt to the uncertainties associated with dynamic notions of ‘territory’ amidst climate change.

The project’s multiple objectives are encapsulated in its name. On the one hand, the ICE LAW Project seeks to query legal options for the governance of ice. On the other hand, the project’s full name – the Project on Indeterminate and Changing Environments: Law, the Anthropocene, and the World – announces its intent to use an inquiry into the intersection between ice and law to generate broader insights about the relationship between a dynamic geophysical world undergoing unprecedented, human-generated climate change and a political-legal system that imagines static and absolute boundaries among territorial states and between land and sea.

Since the workshop, the project has obtained a Leverhulme Trust International Network Grant to facilitate further workshops and conferences, and a number of project proposals developed within the ICE LAW network framework are currently under review.

Support from the University of the Arctic’s Thematic Network on Arctic Law has thus facilitated the development of several strands of research that highlight the political, legal, and regulatory changes necessitated by climate change and their effects on life in the Arctic.

For more information contact:

Phil Steinberg
Professor of Political Geography, Durham University
Director, IBRU: Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research