Part XII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) codifies States’ “obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.” In the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, its submissions addressed and sought the Tribunal’s conclusions on several relevant environmental issues. In the final Award, the protection of the marine environment was taken into consideration, and there are two major potential implications of the Award for environmental issues. These relate to (1) the preservation of the marine environment and (2) environmental cooperation between countries.
In terms of the preservation of the marine environment, the Tribunal’s conclusions that land reclamation and construction have “caused severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem” may encourage countries to consider the legality of such activities in regards to their effects on the marine environment. They may also be more cautious about the environmental impacts of their actions and more hesitant to engage in activities that could be considered illegal under the provisions of UNCLOS.
In terms of environmental cooperation, the Award’s emphasis on China having not cooperated, coordinated, or communicated environmental impact assessments with other countries may pressure other countries, when in doubt, to attempt to do so in order to avoid future legal repercussions.