G. Alfredsson, T. Koivurova (eds. in chief), D. Leary, N. Loukacheva (spec. eds.), The Yearbook of Polar Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2010)


The symposium is now an established annual affair with the first three held in Akureyri and the fourth scheduled in September 2011 in Nuuk, Greenland. Although the symposia continue to provide rich fodder for the yearbook, submissions are encouraged from all scholars in pertinent areas of research. Submissions are subject to double-blind peer review.


The Yearbook has attracted some of the best known experts in their respective areas. A subjective selection of the most noted will always be unfair in such a distinguished field, but scholars of international law will recognise, besides the editors, established experts Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Nigel Bankes and  Asbjørn Eide.


The Yearbook of Polar Law responds to the growing strategic and economic importance of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The Arctic is changing rapidly, not only geophysically in response to climate shifts but also geopolitically as human technology and security issues give it new social  meanings. Where the Yearbook departs from other Arctic and Antarctic scholarly publications is that it approaches the challenges of the polar regions principally from a legal standpoint. Nevertheless, studies in these areas require almost invariably an interdisciplinary approach: one cannot assess continental shelf claims under the Law of the Sea Convention without a basic grasp of geography; climate change governance without scientific evidence; nor indigenous peoples’ self-determination claims without anthropological and historical knowledge.


In contrast to the Polar Law Textbook which is intended as an introduction to Polar Law, the Yearbook is aimed at academics and policy makers already established in their respective areas of expertise.


The second volume includes a new “recent developments” section as well as relevant book reviews. What it lacks that was valuable in the first is an overall review of the symposium and the conclusions and recommendations of its participants. That overall review provided an excellent – and gentle – introduction to the sometimes highly technical and specialist papers that follow, in the manner of an introductory chapter in an edited collection of essays. In it, key general issues were identified, including climate change; human rights; new commercial activities at the Poles; shipping challenges; threats to native species; environmental governance; peace, security and dispute settlement. Then specific pressing issues were highlighted: management and protection of at-risk species; a more proactive approach by the International Maritime Organization in identified areas; the need, if any, for new laws, treaties and processes; and living marine resources management. States were advised of areas requiring immediate attention, such as: implementation of existing law; mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in cooperation with indigenous peoples of the North. Long-term issues were noted:  namely, climate change and environmental governance. Finally recommendations from the symposium’s participants were recorded, aimed towards academics vis á vis needed research and states vis á vis needed action. This summary gives context to the rest of the articles and allows the reader to go on to read any one of the individual contributions with the bigger picture in mind.     


While all the articles in the two published volumes could easily have found homes in alternative fora – specialist journals on the law of the sea, environmental law, natural resource law, dispute settlement, human rights, arctic studies as well as general international law and social science volumes – the Yearbook of Polar Law is, as its title indicates, the first journal to draw together all these fields with a specific focus on the Polar Regions. By tying together all these related fields in one publication, it gives scholars, policy makers and stakeholders the opportunity to form a more holistic view of the challenges facing the Polar Regions.


At 156 Euros per volume, the Yearbook is presumably aimed at institutional subscribers: law school libraries, governmental institutions and research facilities; principally those focussed on the Arctic and Antarctic. This is a little unfortunate as these perspectives from the Poles are informative not only to specialist researchers at the World’s ends, but for people all over the World facing challenges such as climate change, resource management, territorial disputes and indigenous claims. One can only hope that, price notwithstanding, the Yearbook’s contents will nevertheless reach the wide audience that they merit.

About Rachael L. Johnstone

Rachael Lorna Johnstone is Professor of law at the University of Akureyri, Iceland, Professor of Law, Arctic Oil and Gas Studies, at Ilisimatusarfik (the University of Greenland) and Director of the Arctic Oil and Gas Research Centre. Professor Johnstone specialises in Polar law: the governance of the Arctic and the Antarctic under international and domestic law. She is the author of Offshore Oil and Gas Development in the Arctic under International Law: Risk and Responsibility (Brill 2015) and has published widely on the rights of indigenous people; international human rights law; governance of extractive industries in the Arctic; international environmental law; due diligence; state responsibility; and Arctic strategies. She is a member of the International Law Association, the Arctic Law Thematic Network of the University of the Arctic, and the Global Arctic Research team. She serves on the Steering Committee of the Northern Research Forum, is on the Advisory Board of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative, and is a Board Member for the Equality Fund of Iceland under the Parliament of Iceland. Professor Johnstone holds a doctorate in juridical science from the University of Toronto (2004), an M.A. in Polar Law from the University of Akureyri (2014), an LL.M. in Legal Theory from the European Academy of Legal Theory (2000) and an LL.B.(Hons) from the University of Glasgow (1999).