The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982. It replaced the four Geneva Conventions of April, 1958, which respectively concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing and conservation of living resources on the high seas.
The Convention has created three new institutions on the international scene :
- the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,
- the International Seabed Authority,
– the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
The Convention has become the legal framework for marine and maritime activities and IUCN with its partners are working towards an implementing agreement (UNCLOS IA) that will close important gaps in governance.
The Convention came into effect in November, 1994. It now has 162 Parties including the European Union for its share of jurisdictions. Generally speaking, the USA is the most important non-subscriber to the UNCLOS, solely due to its strong opposition to the regime concerning exploitation of natural resources on the seabed beyond national jurisdictions. Aside from this particular position, the USA considers the rules of the Convention as a continuation of existing regulations in the law of the sea, because they are the expression of customary law (for example, freedom of navigation and, in general, rules applying to the high seas); elsewhere, the USA has integrated legal entities created by the Convention into its national law, such as the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ.