Examining the Prevalence of Soft Law: Cases of the Arctic and Climate Change

Miss Hema Nadarajah1

1University Of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Soft law, binding or non-binding written legal instruments, have been observed to be increasing within the frontiers – regions and issue-areas that extend beyond national jurisdiction, and where governance substantively integrates scientific and technological knowledge. The often-used assumption for the prevalence of such instruments has been the uncertainty of scientific knowledge. This paper takes this facile analysis further by examining the dynamic changes to the number and diversity of state and non-state actors as well as their relative influence. It also examines the interaction of hard and soft instruments as well as the possible trends within the respective case’s sphere of legal governance, investigating if another commonly held assumption that soft law crystallizes into a hard treaty holds within these cases. Within the cases examined in this paper, the Arctic and Climate Change, preliminary research shows that this has not been the case. Through analysis of the legal framework within which each case is governed and a mixed methodology drawing from the fields of international relations and international law, this research hypothesizes that the prevalence of soft law has been an outcome of domestic politics, as well as geopolitical tensions among the relevant states within the respective cases.


Hema is a PhD Candidate (International Relations) at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on the increasing use of soft law instruments and their influence on inter-state relations on topics pertaining to the Arctic, Climate Change, and Outer Space. Originally from Singapore, she also examines the role of the island city-state in the Arctic.

Hema has a Master of Environment from the Australian National University where she specialized in Climate Change, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto where she majored in Geology.

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