Academic journal article McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law

The Canadian Submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law

The Canadian Submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION 2. THE INTERNATIONAL LEGAL REGIME GOVERNING THE OUTER CONTINENTAL    SHELF    2.1 THE EXTENDED CONTINENTAL SHELF    2.2 THE TEST OF APPURTENANCE    2.3 DELINEATING THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF    2.4 POSITIVE FORMULA LINES    2.5 ESTABLISHING THE FOOT OF THE CONTINENTAL SLOPE    2.6 CONSTRAINT LINES    2.7 COMBINING POSITIVE FORMULA LINES AND CONSTRAINT LINES    2.8 SEAFLOOR HIGHS AND DELIMITATION    2.9 PREPARING A SUBMISSION    2.10 THE COMMISSION ON THE LIMITS OF THE CONTINENTAL SHELF 3. THE CANADIAN SUBMISSION    3.1 THE ATLANTIC CONTINENTAL MARGINS    3.2 THE ARCTIC CONTINENTAL MARGINS    3.3 THE WESTERN ARCTIC    3.4 THE EASTERN ARCTIC 4. DELIMITATION BETWEEN STATES 5. CONCLUSION 

When the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ("UNCLOS") came into effect in 1994, the international community gained a new, more clearly defined regime for supporting coastal state jurisdiction. (1) One way this was accomplished was by clearly recognizing the ability of a state to establish sovereignty over an undersea geological formation known as a continental shelf. A continental shelf is a common feature of ocean floor topography. Often, the ocean remains shallow for some distance from the shore, and then falls steeply away; the shallow area is known as the continental shelf. While the state practice of claiming ownership over resources located on or within a continental shelf outside of territorial waters is longstanding, precisely what could be claimed and how such claims could be asserted against other states had not been defined with any certainty. (2) UNCLOS has reduced much of this ambiguity by establishing a broadly accepted regime to govern claims over this area of the seafloor.

Canada in particular has obtained considerable resource rights by virtue of the outer continental shelf regime in UNCLOS. Under this regime, Canada has asserted rights over approximately 1.75 million square kilometers under the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. (3) Although the size of the expanse is staggering, some commentators have argued that the benefits from this expansion may not prove to be an unmitigated windfall. (4) While this area is known to contain frozen methane gas deposits, the technology to develop them does not yet exist. (5) Further, other resources could be difficult and expensive to recover due to their vast distance from shore and extreme depths. (6) Despite the possibility that, at least in the short term, the rewards may be modest, the Canadian government has clearly stated its intention to assert its rights in the Arctic to the fullest extent possible. (7) Scientists are predicting an ice-free Arctic within a few decades; consequently, Arctic states are being forced to prepare for the new reality of more accessible Arctic territory. (8) The Canadian government has responded by pledging to develop civilian and military capabilities in the Arctic, and by seeking to generate certainty about the nature and extent of its northern rights. (9) The pursuit of international recognition of a Canadian northern continental shelf should therefore be understood in the context of this strategy.

While the existence of Canada's resource rights over its continental shelf is unquestioned, the exact boundaries of the area over which these rights exist has not yet been determined. In order to make this delineation, states are required under UNCLOS to make a submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Outer Continental Shelf (the "CLCS"). (10) When discussing the role of the CLCS in Canada's outer continental shelf claim, it is important to make clear what is at stake, and what is not. Canada does not need to make a submission to obtain resource rights over its outer continental shelf; it has those rights by virtue of UNCLOS alone. (11) Rather, the CLCS process will allow Canada to delineate clearly the outer extent of its legal continental shelf. To this end, Canada will provide the CLCS with a document outlining its position on the location of the limit of its extended continental shelf and special evidence supporting it. …

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