The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)

The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) was established via the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It is to this body that coastal states must send their comprehensive documentation concerning the part of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, i.e. the extended continental shelf. This must be done within 10 years of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea coming into force in the costal state in question. This documentation is referred to as a submission.

How the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is organised

The Commission consists of 21 members with expert knowledge in the fields of geology, geophysics or hydrography. The members are elected for five years amongst candidates from countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and according to a geographical distribution system. At the time of writing (October 2019) 168 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Commission receives technical aid from the United Nations to allow for a thorough examination of the claim of a coastal state. The boundaries of the continental shelf based on the recommendations of the Commission are final and binding. The Commission has developed technical guidelines detailing how to collect and document the data included in the documentation for an extension of the continental shelf.

At the time of writing (October 2019), the Commission has received 85 claims and issued 35 recommendations. For instance, Australia has been allowed to extend its continental shelf with 2.5 million square kilometres beyond 200 nautical miles. If the working speed of the Commission does not increase, several years will go by before the Commission has examined the claims that have already been submitted.

The Commission does not establish boundaries between the individual coastal states

It is important to stress that the Commission (and thereby the United Nations) does not touch on questions regarding the delimitation of the continental shelf between states. The Commission refers questions of dividing overlapping claims to general international laws meaning negotiations between the coastal states in question, mediators or, ultimately, involving international courts of justice.