Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 274

274 Arctic Yearbook 2015 (Rio Declaration 1992; UNFCCC 1992; CBD 1992). Further treaties address issues of common concern (e.g. Ramsar Convention 1971; UNESCO World Heritage Convention 1972; Vienna Convention 1985; Montreal Protocol 1987) and arguably the LOSC and the Fish Stocks Agreement (1995) are among them (Birnie et al. 2009: 128). The concept is currently confined to treaty law, where consensus on complex issues and detailed legal regimes are more easily achieved (Brunnée 2008: 565). The obvious question then is what legal impact, if any, the concept has. Brunnée (2008: 566) suggests that it “signals that states’ freedom of action may be subject to limits even where other states’ sovereign rights are not affected in [a direct transboundary way]” and she proposes accordingly to “conceive of the concept of common concerns as entitling, perhaps even requiring, all states to cooperate internationally to address the concern.” The concept’s contribution therefore appears to boil down to another, perhaps broader, duty to cooperate. However, even if states might agree that the environmental changes in the Arctic are of common concern, uncertainties would remain as to the issues to be addressed collectively, as to the states entitled to participate in cooperation and as to their respective roles. The current wrestle to come to grips with these aspects takes place against the backdrop of fragile institutional achievements, delicate relationships among Arctic states and the latter’s apprehension of uncontrollable shifts in power and influence, which make the consensus-finding process very complex. All these aspects are intricately interwoven and the concept of common concerns provides no real guidance to address them. Recent use of the concept might even bear the risk of discrediting it. Indeed, Liu et al. (2012: 379), drawing on the consideration that climate change in the Arctic is a common concern, argue that climate change negotiations should also address related problems, including Arctic biodiversity, navigation, fisheries and indigenous rights. While the authors insist on the coastal states’ sovereignty, their argument implicitly plays down the Arctic states’ particular situation. Their rights and interests as well as the concern of finding tailor-made solutions to Arctic problems might indeed get lost in climate change negotiations that have their own focus and follow their own dynamics. The concept of common concerns may perhaps benefit the Arctic debate insofar as it reminds states that “sovereignty is not unlimited or absolute” (Birnie et al. 2009: 130). A more cooperative approach might indeed “smooth the hard edges of state sovereignty” (Archer 2014: 404). However, the concept does not question state sovereignty as a pivotal feature in interstate relations, nor can it be used to contest the Arctic states’ leading role in Arctic affairs, which remains justified by the law. Conclusion It is the tragic irony of the Arctic that the tremendous natural disaster of rising temperatures and melting ice is perceived by many states as an opportunity. New seaways, new resource exploitation sites, new geopolitical areas of influence seem to emerge and have stirred up some political excitement. The physical changes, new activities and evolving interests in the Arctic have caused the need to adapt the governance of the region. In this context, the framing of a ‘common Arctic’ appears as a strategy used by Arctic and non-Arctic states alike in order to position themselves on the international Bartenstein