U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would boost U.S. leadership on protecting maritime environment in multiple ways
While these powers give us a great deal of control over our interests in both environmental protection and the productive use of our continental shelf, in themselves they are insufficient to protect the full range of either our environmental interests or our energy and other interests. To protect those interests, we need to influence the laws and practices of foreign countries. It is for this reason that the Convention establishes a floor of generally accepted international standards that every coastal state must apply. Among the American interests that this protects are the following:
- Our neighbors have the same exclusive rights over the continental shelf off their coasts as we have off ours. Pollution from their activities can easily affect our waters, our resources, and our shores. This became abundantly clear a number of years ago when a pollution incident on the Mexican continental shelf gave rise to extensive public concerns in Texas and other Gulf states that our waters and coastline would be polluted. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to protect ourselves from such incidents in a way that avoids any appearance that we are bullying our neighbors.
- While every coastal state has the right to impose higher standards on its continental shelf activities, and ours are among the strongest in the world, the oil and gas industry is a global enterprise that can achieve economic efficiencies from uniform global standards regarding equipment and operations. Those efficiencies can of course help to keep down the cost of energy and free up additional capital for investment. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to promote stronger and more efficient international standards and their general acceptance.
- We live in an era of instant global news. A serious pollution catastrophe on the continental shelf anywhere in the world is likely to be reported, and its consequences televised, throughout the globe. This can stimulate public demands in many countries for new restrictions on continental shelf development. To the extent that this means that we all continue to learn from each others’ mistakes, this is of course a good thing. But to the extent that public excitement can lead to hasty and ill-considered actions either in the United States or in other countries, the economic consequences can be adverse, and the result may be an unnecessary increase in the price of energy. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to ensure the emergence and enforcement of international standards that reduce the likelihood of such events.
- Our interest in the health of the oceans throughout the world is no mere abstraction. They comprise over two-thirds of our world, and are essential to our well-being and the overall ecological balance of the planet. Marine living resources from the far reaches of the globe supply us and the rest of the world with food, with sources of recreation, with valuable scientific knowledge, and with the promise of new and more effective medicines. We have neither an environmental nor an economic interest in a race to the bottom in pollution regulation in other parts of the world that destroys marine life. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to exercise the kind of balanced global leadership in protecting the oceans that is incumbent upon the leading maritime power in the world and that the American people expect.
This is but one example of the benefits of the approach taken by the Convention to environmental protection. There are many others. The provisions that successfully accommodate the interests of states with respect to freedoms and rights of navigation and their interests with respect to prevention of pollution are obviously of great importance. The maintenance over time of a reasonable balance responsive to both navigation and environmental interests would unquestionably be advanced by U.S. participation in the Convention.
U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will have a positive effect on the environment as the conservation of ocean wildlife, the protection of delicate marine ecosystems, and the control of marine pollution are by their very nature multilateral issues. U.S. ratification will demonstrate U.S. commitment to address these problems in a cooperative manner at a time when some view U.S. policy as generally antithetical to multilateral arrangements. The environmental community strongly favors UNCLOS and U.S. ratification would send a message of support