The fraught legacy of the Common Heritage of Humankind principle for equitable ocean policy

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Abstract / Description of output

This paper addresses a principle originally known as the Common Heritage of Mankind, which has been central to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in the ocean governance concerning the exploration and exploitation of the deep ocean seabed (legally known as the ‘Area’) and the minerals (polymetallic nodules) it contains. In more recent times the applicability of the principle—renamed as Common Heritage of Humankind principle (henceforth abbreviated as CHP)—to marine genetic resources (MGR) in areas beyond national jurisdictions (ABNJ) has been heavily debated as part of the negotiations which led to the landmark UN High Seas Treaty agreed in March 2023 (also known as BBNJ Treaty or BBNJ agreement). This paper has a twofold goal. First, it offers a theoretical/conceptual framework to better understand the nature of epistemic injustices in marine scientific research and ocean governance. Equitable ocean governance should start by recognising these deeply seated epistemic inequalities affecting some prominent interpretations of CHP which are often invoked in negotiations about ocean resources. The second goal of the paper is to provide a different conceptual reading of the most promising interpretation of CHP , namely the one offered by the Group of 77 nations, through the lens of ‘environmental cosmopolitanism’ as a form of non-elitist or 'subaltern cosmopolitanism' that grounds relational obligations to care for a communal good.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103681
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Early online date2 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Common Heritage of Mankind / Humankind
  • BBNJ / High Seas Treaty
  • communal goods
  • epistemic trademarking
  • non-elitist environmental cosmopolitanism


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