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The Shelf Programme: A decade of successfully helping to secure the sovereign maritime rights of developing Coastal States

Not so long ago there was real concern that many developing States would not make the United Nations imposed deadline for lodging submissions for extended continental shelf. We can now look back on ten years of successful capacity building, technical and scientific support and see the tangible results of the pioneering Shelf Programme. All relevant developing States have lodged their submissions and those with an extended deadline are well on the way. The Shelf Programme has had a role in many of these submissions – sometimes quite small with the provision of data, or advice, but sometimes very extensive, with multi-year capacity building, support to data acquisition and technical and scientific support. Either way, the Shelf Programme has played a part in the peaceful resolution of ocean space.

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The roots of the Shelf Programme date back to 1998 when scientists from Norway began to understand the difficulty that many developing States were likely to encounter in their effort to define their extended continental shelf. During the 2002 United Nations General Assembly the Government of Norway called attention to these concerns. The States Parties responded with a resolution that “Calls upon the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) … to expand on a voluntary basis the capacity of existing GRID centres to store and handle research data from the outer continental margin … and making use of existing data management mechanisms … with a view to serving the needs of coastal States, and in particular developing countries and small island developing States, in their compliance with article 76 of the Convention.” So in 2004 in response to the United Nations resolution and following consultation with developing States, the Shelf Programme began to develop its extensive programme of work.