ESRC Seminar Series: January 2010 – October 2011

‘Knowledges, Resources and Legal regimes: The New Geopolitics of the Polar Regions’



The Polar Regions have recently returned to widespread public attention. Media reports of melting sea ice, the plight of polar bears, the sustainability of indigenous livelihoods and the claiming of the Arctic and Antarctic seabeds have garnered international interest. Geopolitical machinations in both Polar Regions have been in evidence, from the building of new scientific bases to the commissioning of replacement icebreakers. Meanwhile, oceanographic and geophysical research has gathered momentum within the context of evidentiary submissions of extended continental shelves to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Resource speculation, particularly in the Arctic, has added extra interest and verve to policy-related discussions. Such discussions increasingly now involve a range of actors, including not only the coastal states and the Arctic Council, but also regional organizations such as the European Union, extra-regional states such as China, environmental NGOs, and political representatives of indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

This ESRC Seminar Series, ‘Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes: The New Geopolitics of the Polar Regions’, was designed to investigate critically the contemporary Arctic and Antarctic.

This seminar series undertook the following activities:

  • Held five events that took stock of the current situation with emphasis placed on the prevailing geopolitical, legal, scientific, governance and human security dimensions of the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • Brought together an international, interdisciplinary network of researchers that will involve academics from geography, anthropology, political science, international law, economics, international relations, history and related disciplines, as well as other user communities within government, NGOs and media.
  • Encourage the development of future research capacity in these areas by integrating participation by postgraduates, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers through special bursaries for attendance, invitations to speak at seminars, and other opportunities to interact in the network.
  • Produced a website to publicize the seminar series and outputs from the seminars
  • Produced a comprehensive directory of UK-based experts in the social sciences and humanities with research interests in the Polar Regions.
  • Continued a range of follow-up activities to consolidate the UK-based polar studies network.

More information on the seminars is provided below.

Seminar 1: Shifting Poles? Geopolitics and legal regimes

Foresight Centre, Liverpool, Thursday 25 March 2010

This seminar launched the network by considering the new geopolitical considerations that are affecting the Polar regions. Why has there been a growth of political attention towards these regions? What environmental changes are evident? What legal regimes are in place? What might be the geopolitical and strategic repercussions in the future?

Read some of the key statements/outcomes from this seminar.

Seminar 2: New resource frontiers? Arctic and Antarctic continental shelves

British Library, London, Tuesday 21 September 2010

This seminar examined the construction of Arctic continental shelves as a ‘final frontier’ for conventional energy exploitation. What is the extent of hydrocarbon resources in the High Arctic? What consequences might result from the development of hydrocarbon resources? Are there parallels evident in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica?

Read some of the key statements/outcomes from this seminar.

Seminar 3, UNCLOS and the Antarctic Treaty: competing models of Polar governance?

British Library, London, Tuesday 15 February 2011

Discussions within the European Union have suggested that the Antarctic Treaty might provide a new model for Arctic governance, whereas the littoral states prefer a model based on the provisions of the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea. Is the development of such a regime possible for the Arctic? How does the Antarctic Treaty System deal with the overlapping framework of UNCLOS? This seminar will discuss these issues.

Read some of the key statements/outcomes from this seminar.

Seminar 4, ‘Subsidiarity’, Indigenous self-determination and other peoples of the Polar regions

Foresight Centre, Liverpool, Thursday 12 May 2011

During the 1990s, it was noted that Subsidiarity was the emergent lesson for governance of the region from indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Is there the potential to develop this notion for environmental management in Antarctica? What are the roles and responsibilities of other people who spend a great part of their lives in the Polar regions, such as scientists, logistical staff, tourists and other industrialists?

Read some of the key statements/outcomes from this seminar.