The governance of ocean commons has become a crucial issue in Anthropocene, as the exploitation of marine resources and the degradation of the marine environment have become increasingly pressing global concerns.

However, the concept of ocean commons has arguably received too little theoretical and critical attention. While generally the concept of ocean commons refers to marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), where no state enjoys sovereignty, sovereign rights, or exclusive jurisdiction, we suggest that there is a need to a) explore with a rich array of approaches the theory and the governance of ocean commons today at global and regional level and b) problematize this exclusively spatio-legal imagination of ocean commons. The latter, in particular, fails to capture the full range of issues, questions, domains and material realities, as well as the intersections of all commons – terrestrial, aerial or oceanic – across multiple dimensions (environment and climate, biodiversity, security, rights of human and non-human, living and non-living materialities etc.) that might need to be qualified as ocean commons, regardless of their jurisdictional status under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Additionally, this spatio-legal imagination of the ocean commons also refracts, in the negative, as a lack, the idea of sovereignty: i.e. ocean commons are those areas that lack a sovereign.

The conference aims to bring together scholars spanning the full range of theoretical and methodological inclinations – doctrinal, contextual, critical, posthuman, feminist etc. - but also to open up to inter- trans- and cross-disciplinary conversations, with the view of interrogating ocean commons, models of governance, legal rules and principles, agencies, and future trajectories. The conference will provide a unique platform for in-depth examination and discussion of a number of relevant themes and key areas of inquiry, including, for example, and in no particular order:

  • Critical examinations of the current legal framework for ocean commons
  • Analyses of existing principles governing the commons
  • Interaction across international legal domains (law of the sea, trade, human rights etc.) and across plural legal orders (international, domestic, indigenous etc.)
  • Theoretical and methodological questions related to the notion of ocean commons
  • Alternative and novel approaches to the governance of ocean commons, including the role of non-sovereign agency (indigenous peoples, local communities, nature) and alternative legalities (e.g. legal pluralism) in the governance of ocean commons
  • The relationship between ocean commons and ocean justice
  • Future imaginaries of ocean commons governance
  • Comparative questions on global (and local) commons
  • Emerging and consolidating challenges to the governance of ocean commons (novel technologies, geopolitical shifts, climate change etc.)
  • The new implementation agreement of UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)
  • The governance of regional commons

NCLOS invites engagements with and contributions to one or more of these themes.

This conference will provide an opportunity for academics, practitioners, and policymakers to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue and to contribute to the ongoing debate on ocean commons governance. In addition, leading experts are invited to give keynote lectures.