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International environmental
law has been developed to be various disciplines which discuss several
different issues specifically. Regimes have been devised to address specific
global or regional environmental problems, such as particular sources and types
of trans-boundary pollution, rather than to promote trans-boundary
environmental governance in integrated manner.1 As
a consequence there is today an array of international environmental regimes
but a lack of coordination among them, and many regimes operate independently,
and sometimes even inconsistently, in relation to each another.2

The changing chemistry of
the oceans as a result of the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the
atmosphere, called ocean acidification, is one of several challenges in
addressing new environmental challenges effectively and expeditiously in
environmental regime complexity. Such phenomenon is caused by the atmospheric
pollutant that is also the main driver of anthropogenic climate change, having
effects on the marine environment as serious as other climate change, having
effects on the marine environment as serious as other pollutants entering the
oceans. As the phenomenon has only recently been assessed in scientific
literature, and much further research remains to be done, there has been little
opportunity for an influential epistemic community of concerned scientist to
assemble and raise global awareness of the seriousness of the problem.3 Flowing
from this, attention is only now being directed to what role international
environmental law can and ought to play in addressing ocean acidification.

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There are two main
environmental regimes appear to have obvious application to ocean acidification
– the climate change regime established upon the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)4 and the marine
pollution regime constituted by the UNCLOS that regulate pollution of the
marine environment from various sources. However, while the phenomenon is
partially regulated by both of these principal regimes, or collections of
regimes, it is addressed wholeheartedly by neither. Ocean acidification
therefore exists in somewhat of an international legal twilight zone, a
regrettable position given the serious threat it presents to the ecological integrity
of the world’s oceans.5

In connection with the legal
implication of ocean acidification by co2 of climate change, after the
introduction, next section discuss the ocean acidification itself by describing
the causes and the consequences. Section 3 will analyze the international law
regimes to address the problem. Afterwards, this article argue that there is a
need for amendment to the UNCLOS.The present atmospheric
concentration of CO2 is higher than it has been for the past 420,000 years, and
possibly for the last 15 million years.1 While
the effects of this change to the carbon concentration of the atmosphere on the
global climate system is widely acknowledged and increasingly well understood, the
impact of CO2 on the chemical make-up of the oceans has only recently attracted
attention from scientists and policy makers.2The chemical process of
ocean acidification is relatively straightforward, although there is substantial
regional and seasonal variability in ocean pH.1 As
the term ‘ocean acidification’ suggests, when CO2 dissolves in the oceans it
reacts with H2O to form an acid, carbonic acid.2 The
oceans are naturally alkaline and the pre-industrial pH of the oceans was
around 8.1.3 The ocean pH has now
declined by 0.1, such that the oceans are more acidic today than at any time in
the last half-million years.4 Moreover,
ocean pH may fall by up to 0.5 units by 2100 if CO2 emissions are not
substantially reduced.5This process results in
substantial changes to the carbon chemistry of the oceans. Hydrogen ions
released in the formation of carbonic acid combine with carbonate ions in the
water to form bicarbonate, removing substantial amounts of carbonate ions from
the water which are essential for the formation of a range of marine organizations.6
There has been a ten percent decline in carbonate concentrations compared to
pre-industrial levels, 17 and these are projected to decrease by 50 percent by
2100.7It can be said that there is
a consensus in scientific knowledge that ocean acidification already having
high impacts on many ocean species and ecosystems.1 Many
marine photosynthetic organisms and animals, such as molluscs, corals,
echinoderms, foraminifera and calcareous algae, make shells and plates out of
calcium carbonate.2 It could happened when the seawater contains a
sufficient concentration of calcium carbonate. Increased concentrations of CO2 will increase acidity which impedes the process of
calcification. Calcifying organisms will be negatively affected in the present
century, with estimates suggesting that calcification rates will decrease by as
much as 50 percent by 2100 due to the fall in calcium carbonate concentration.3Calcium carbonate is employed as a
construction material for organisms in several crystalline forms, such as
aragonite and calcite. All calcifying organisms are likely to be adversely
affected by ocean acidification, but those that use aragonite will be affected
first as aragonite dissolves more readily due to its crystalline structure.4 At most risk are coral organisms that require aragonite to be
deposited in excess of erosion to build coral reefs and if oceanic pH falls by as much as 0.4 pH units by 2100,
carbonate levels could potentially drop below those required to sustain coral
reef accretion by 2050.5

1 See, G. De’ath et al.,
“Declining coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef”, 323 Science (2009),
116.  

2 Royal Society, Ocean
acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (2005), in Rachel Baird, op cit, 5.

3 OSPAR Commission, Effects on the marine environment of ocean
acidification resulting from elevated levels of CO2 in the
atmosphere (2006).  See also, M.
Sakashita, “Petition to regulate carbon dioxide pollution under the Federal
Clean Water Act”, 2007  

4 WGBU, Special Report 2006: The future oceans, warming up, rising
high, turning sour (2006)  

5 W. Burns, “Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and ocean
acidification”, in R.A. Askins et al. (eds), Saving Biological Diversity (Berlin:
Springer, 2008), 187. See also, Hoegh-Guldberg, loc cit.

1 B. I. McNeil and R.J.
Matearb, “Southern Ocean acidification: A tipping point at 450-ppm atmospheric
CO2”, 105 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2008).

2 J. C. Orr et al.,
“Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact
on calcifying organisms”, 437 Nature (2005), 681.  

3 O. Hoegh-Guldberg et al.,
“Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification”, 318 Science
(2007), 1737  

4 ibid

5 Royal Society, Ocean
acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (2005), in Rachel Baird, op cit, 4.

6 Ibid

7 B. Rost and U. Riebsell,
“Coccolithaphores and the biological Pump: responses to environmental changes”,
in H. R. Thierstein and J. R. Young (eds.), Coccolithophores: from molecular
process to global impacts (Berlin: Springer, 2004), 99.  

1 SCOR/IOC, “The ocean in a
high CO2 world”, 17 Oceanography (2004), 72.  

2 Rachel Baird, loc cit

1 See generally T. Stephens,
International courts and environmental protection (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2009).

2 See R. Wolfrum and N.
Matz, Conflicts in international environmental law (Berlin: Springer,
2003).  

3 In contrast to the ozone
depletion and climate change that has attracted far more scientific attention
over a longer period, with correspondingly greater impacts upon global
environmental regime building. See generally Peter M. Haas, “Banning
Chlorofluorocarbons: Epistemic Community Efforts to Protect Stratospheric
Ozone” 46 International Organization (1992), 1.  

4 United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, 9 May 1992, (“UNFCCC”).  

5 Rachel Baird, et al, “Ocean Acidification: A Litmus
Test for International Law”, Sydney Law
School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/139, 2010, 3

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