Old laws for new risks at sea: mineral resources, climate change, sea lanes, and cables
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Canals, tunnels, and bridges over straits, submarine pipelines for oil and gas,28 as well as cables serve communication and transport purposes in the widest sense. These types of marine infrastructure can easily suffer from natural disasters or become targets of terrorism.29 It may be recalled that millions of telephone, telex, TV, and data links are made across the world at every moment. They may travel on radio waves or via satellites, but the majority are transmitted by submarine cables,30 which form a network over the world's seabeds. Cables are special because they provide the privacy and security that radio and satellite lack. They are reliable and long lasting and have an excellent capacity and transmission quality. Cables are vitally important to the global economy, to national security, and to the safety of life.31 The modern version of these arteries of data flow is fiber-optic cables running through oceans, straits, and across land bridges. For example, the bulk of data flow between Europe and the Far East goes by fiber-optic cables that run from the Mediterranean through Egyptian territory into the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. A high concentration of cables can be found in the South China Sea, Red Sea, and Mediterranean Sea. Likewise, a growing number of subsea cables for the transport of electricity are or under construction or in the planning process. Building up redundencies or back-up solutions will add to the picture, create additional intrusion on the environment, and offer a target for terrorists. Thus, the protection of “critical” marine infrastructure is part of the agenda.
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The Arctic Ocean is currently at the center of the outer continental shelf discus- sion. In fact, the Arctic is becoming the test bench for international politics. It is an ocean where oil and gas, minerals, fisheries, sea lanes, military interests, and gover- nance over ocean spaces meet in conflict among the five “frontline” states (USA, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, and Russia) while other neighboring entities like Iceland, the EU, Japan, and China express their Arctic interests as well.
All these happen at the same time when Arctic temperatures are rising twice as fast as in the rest of the world20 and climate change becomes incalculable. The warming temperatures break up polar ice, raise sea levels, erode coastlines at a remarkable speed,21 and potentially cause international conflicts as the Arctic becomes accessible at least during the summer. The USA, unlike the other Arctic states, is falling behind in this contest with little or no icebreaking and naval capacities in the region. Moreover, since the USA has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention, it is neither in a position to claim outer continental shelf areas nor has a say in the International Seabed Authority ISA which will be responsible for deep-sea mining in central parts of the Arctic. Denmark, on the other hand, is working on its “Arctic strategy” with an anticipated claim of outer continental shelves north of Greenland to include the pole, which will be formally presented to the CLCS before 2014.
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The following examples demonstrate that the race has begun. The Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals Inc.8 received its first production license for the Solwara 1 project from Papua New Guinea in January 2011 and has pending applications for the EEZ of Fiji and other places. Sydney-based Neptune Minerals is exploring the seabed off New Zealand. De Beers of South Africa, an offshore diamond miner, is adapting its technology for similar projects in the Coral Sea.9 The Dutch firm “OceanflORE” is elaborating a project study for the exploitation of phosphorites off the coast of New Zealand while the US Geological Service is working on an inventory of the seabed riches of Pacific territories and associated states in the area. A poor Pacific island may become a bonanza. A tiny island or a reef and a rock may become the trigger of a maritime clash, ending up in an incident or a military occupation.
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The world economy, still suffering from the financial crisis, is currently experiencing increasing commodity prices. Industrial associations and governments are monitoring patterns of supply and demand, not only for standard minerals like iron, but also for high-value metals (e.g., nickel, copper, titanium, gold) and rare earth elements (REE) like yttrium, indium, gallium, neodymium, and germanium (Kato et al. 2011) which are important for semi-conductors, photovoltaics, lasers, liquid crystal displays, fiber- optic cables, and other high-tech products used in both civilian and military applica- tions. The demand for raw materials is expected to double in the next 25 years. The EU has identified a list of 14 out of 41 critical raw materials2 which are irreplaceable in key industries. The supply risk is due to the fact that a high share of production comes from China,3 Russia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brazil. This production concentration cannot easily be substituted for or augmented by other sources. The political–economic stability of some of the producing states is questionable and, in the case of Congo, nearing collapse. The list of failing states will grow where humanitarian and environmental risks may get completely out of control. The risks for the supply chains are self-evident: old and newly industrialized states are competing over prices and access rights to the remaining raw materials, while the low-hanging fruits have been picked. As a consequence, interest in marine mineral resources is growing again. With only 29% of the world's surface being land and 71% being sea, there is every reason to believe that terrestrial minerals occur in deposits on and in the seabed, as well. The Pacific Ocean alone is larger than all land masses on earth.