Call for submissions for Volume 28 of the Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law

Challenges and Opportunities for the Law of the Sea at a Time of Crisis

International law is under increasing pressure to adapt in order to be able to adequately respond to varied crises around the world. Maritime issues seem to be at the centre of many contemporary challenges to which international law must react. To name but a few, these challenges range from sea-level rise attributed to climate change to collective security issues as a result of an unprecedented number of attacks on international ship traffic in the Gulf of Aden, questions of self-determination and decolonization arising from maritime boundary disputes, as well as increasing migration-related fatalities in the Mediterranean region.

In addressing these issues, the law of the sea, a distinctive branch of international law governing the rights and duties of States in marine environments, offers a central lens through which to examine how international law reacts and adapts to contemporary challenges. This is evinced by notable developments in the field, such as the recent adoption of the Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement); judgments concerning maritime delimitation at both the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS); reports submitted by international bodies on the relation between the law of the sea and climate change; and the International Law Commission’s (ILC) first report on the prevention and repression of piracy and armed robbery at sea. These recent developments provide a suitable opportunity to analyse the role of the law of the sea in dealing with the aforementioned challenges. In particular, the overarching question arises as to whether the law of the sea is able to respond adequately to developments that were not yet foreseeable when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the “constitution for the oceans” (T.T.B. Koh), was adopted more than 40 years ago. Is it more resilient in the face of today’s crises compared to other bodies of international law? Or does this body of law require further adaptability and contingent action?

In an effort to address this question and in light of these dynamic developments, the UNYB issues a special call for papers providing contributors with a thematic forum to critically assess the law of the sea in the context of contemporary crises in international law. Reflecting on the past 30 years since UNCLOS entered into force, and considering recent developments, possible (non-exhaustive) research areas for engagement include:

  • Examination of thematic issues addressed by UNCLOS such as maritime delimitation, the protection and preservation of the marine environment, sea-level rise, and the exploitation and exploration of resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction;
  • Historical analysis of the work of bodies established by UNCLOS, namely the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and ITLOS;
  • Relationship between UNCLOS tribunals and other dispute settlement mechanisms, such as the ICJ;
  • The role and competence of ITLOS’ jurisprudence in addressing contemporary global challenges (such as climate change, deep-sea exploitation, and the protection of marine biodiversity and natural resources);
  • Assessment of the BBNJ treaty’s impact on the existing law of the sea machinery and its various institutions;
  • Relationship between the UNCLOS and the UN Climate Change Regime;
  • The perspectives of small islands States on international law’s role in climate change and marine environmental protection;
  • The role of strategic litigation and non-State actors in the development of the international legal regime on marine and climate protection;
  • Questions of decolonization and self-determination in the Law of the Sea;
  • Assessing international law’s competency in protecting persons at sea considering, for instance, migrant and refugee crises, the emergence of ‘climate refugees’, conflict and insurgency, slavery and piracy;
  • Naval warfare and the use of emerging technologies under the law of the sea.


Submission Guidelines:

We invite anyone interested in contributing to this edition to submit at first instance, an abstract proposal of no more than 500 words by 1 August. Authors are encouraged to focus closely on a particular line of legal argumentation or a specific niche within this broader debate.

In your abstract submission, please include i) the working title; ii) the main arguments to be developed in the article; and, iii) a brief explanation on how the topic fits within the scope of the Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law. Please submit your proposal in a Word document, along with a short bio (max 100 words) in the cover letter delivered by email to .

The usual length of an article featured in the Yearbook is between 8,000 and 14,000 words, though for this thematic forum, we are also open to receiving proposals of opinion notes with a shorter word count as well. Following a positive assessment of their abstract proposal, authors will be instructed to submit a full draft of their manuscript by 1 November, which will then be placed through our double-blind peer-review process for consideration of final publication.

In addition to featuring manuscripts pertaining to the thematic scope of this volume, we will also be featuring selected articles that fall within the overall editorial line of the Yearbook, on issues connected with the UN and its initiatives. As such, we encourage authors to send in their proposals for consideration in accordance with the same deadline and requirements indicated above.