The goal of this ambitious edited volume is to “explore and understand possibilities for ocean governance amidst climate change” (3, emphasis original). Given the vital function that the oceans play in mitigating and reducing the impact of climate change, along with the relative lack of attention given to this role in mainstream discussions of climate change, this volume is both timely and of great interest. The structure and organization of the book are such that there is something valuable to all scholars who work in the areas of either climate change or ocean governance, while still being approachable for those relatively new to the field.
The introductory section consists of two chapters: Paul Harris’ overall approach to assembling the volume and Elizabeth Mendenhall’s discussion of overarching issues that underlie all chapters, namely, a history of ocean governance and various international maritime treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Many of the chapters that follow refer to these ideas, and Mendenhall’s chapter skillfully weaves everything together for those new to the topic.
Following this introductory material are six case studies on islands and coasts and the particular problems faced in these areas by climate change. The value of these case studies is undeniable, given that the very breadth of cases (from the Caribbean to the Middle East to the coasts of Asia) is certain to contain new information for any scholar seeking to understand global impacts of sea level rise and coastal development. They also work as a cohesive note to begin the volume, as the case studies are generally independent from each other in a way that works naturally. However, the case study choices do not feel deliberate in any meaningful way. This is not to say that regions of focus were chosen poorly, just that there is a lack of justification for why these six cases were deemed the most relevant.
This is important to note because later in the volume are three chapters on the polar seas (and a fourth on the Arctic Ocean in a different section). These would seem to logically fit in well with the previous case studies, providing a more in-depth examination of one particular region. (There are drawbacks to considering the Arctic and the Antarctic as a single region, but given the goals of this particular book, grouping them together is a logical choice.) Instead of transitioning from the case studies to the section on the polar seas, however, the book instead transitions to a section on fishing that consequently feels out of place. Overall, this is more of a missed opportunity than an organizational flaw, but it is one that could have helped to strengthen the case studies, both polar and otherwise, as a narrative.
The case studies are only half of the volume, however. In the latter half of the book, Harris brings together various chapters on nearly every element of ocean governance investigated by modern scholars. There are considerations of international law focusing on whether the current maritime treaties are sufficient to the challenge of ocean governance in a world with climate change and examining to what extent they align with the separate climate change regime in international law. Ori Sharon’s contribution on the rights of low-lying small island states given the existential threat of sea level rise is of particular note here, as international law remains unclear what happens to state rights once the state is underwater and thus lacks statehood.
The second half of the book also includes discussion of a number of issue areas predicted to become highly important in the near future. These include marine shipping, ocean energy, and coral reef degradation, among others. The problem of marine plastic pollution, for example, is well known, but Peter Stoett and Joanna Vince take an approach to the issue focused on climate change. They point out that marine plastic pollution is not only a problem for the marine environment but also may interfere with the oceans’ ability to absorb CO2, and that both plastics and climate change problems ultimately stem from the use of fossil fuels. This climate change–centric approach provides a good overview of both the nature of the problem and the difficulties in finding solutions.
Overall, this book provides a good overview of the current state of research into the intersection of ocean governance and climate change and makes an important contribution to the literature on the topic. The case studies are relevant, providing examples that showcase various problems. Likewise, the combined approaches of law and policy make for an excellent interdisciplinary read, and the particular issues explored are all highly relevant and of current interest.