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UiT researcher teaching Energy Law in Japan

Japan is one of the highest energy consuming countries in the world, whilst at the same time highly dependent on import of energy. The University of Kobe invited UiT law researcher Maria das Neves to teach Japanese students about how energy production is regulated under international law.

Trude Haugseth Moe 03.11.2017 11:40   (Sist oppdatert: 03.11.2017 14:30)

Maria das Neves teaching at the Kobe University. Foto: Private

Maria das Neves, Associate Professor and researcher at the KG Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea at UiT, is at a two months stay in Japan to teach at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies of the University of Kobe (GSICS).

– When Professor Akiho Shibata from GSICS and Professor Tore Henriksen approached me with the invitation come to Japan, it took me about two seconds to make up my mind. It was an offer I simply could not refuse, Maria said before she left for Japan in September.

Das Neves is now over half way in her two months stay at the University of Kobe.

– Teaching in a different culture has been quite an alluring prospect. I can say that teaching and conducting research at the GSICS has been an enrichening experience for me, and a good opportunity to make both our Faculty of Law and the Jebsen Centre at UiT more visible internationally, das Neves says.  

Energy a key concern in Japan

Her past research focuses mainly on energy issues concerning Norway, the EU, and the Arctic. Coming to Japan would allow her to expand her knowledge of how a variety of energy issues are being addressed by Japan, and by Asia more generally. 

Maria das Neves is Associate professor at the Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea at the Faculty of Law at UiT. Foto: Trude Haugseth Moe

– Energy is a key concern of Japan. Japan has the challenge of being one of the highest energy consuming countries in the world whilst at the same time being highly dependent on import of energy. After the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan faced the considerable challenge of reviewing its energy policy and debating the role of nuclear power, das Neves explains.

 New course

Das Neves has made a new course from scratch for her Japanese students. It examines how energy related activities (oil, gas, electricity, nuclear energy, renewable energy, etc.) are regulated under various fields of public international law: law of the sea, international economic law, nuclear law, international climate change and environmental law, and human rights law).

Energy is vital

Das Neves is passionate about her field.  

– Energy law is something I am very interested in. It is for me the most exciting topic one can choose to teach and learn, says das Neves.

She means energy is vital for socio-economic development and inextricably linked with the most basic human needs; such as access to water, cooking, medical assistance, etc. Energy is present in most aspects of our daily lives - at least in developed countries.

– Actually, the first question I always ask my students is for them to look around the classroom and identify one thing that is not in any way connected to energy in general and electricity in particular. Not surprisingly, there is never something they can identify – even the oxygen in that closed room is dependent on the ventilation system, says Das Neves.

At the same time, energy is also the source of conflicts, violation of human rights, and environmental degradation.

– How to achieve the balance of ensuring energy for our needs whilst not aggravating its negative aspects is indeed a key question that makes teaching and learning about the regulation of energy activities not only exciting but also extremely important, means das Neves.

Energy related to major challenges

 She found designing the course challenging, considering the wide number of energy issues and fields of international law she had to cover. Still, she felt it was a good reminder of how energy cuts across all the main fields of international law, and of the importance of properly regulating energy activities.

 – It is also good to provide this overview of energy and international law to the students and allow them to understand that energy is a topic related to some of the main challenges mankind is facing: climate change, environmental degradation, eradication of poverty, and conflicts over natural resources, das Neves explains.

Japan is now implementing a number of changes to the organization of its internal energy market, and developing a number of measures, including the field of renewable energy, to meet its international obligations concerning climate change mitigation.

– For these reasons, Japan is a great case study in a multitude of energy issues. Given the relevance of energy for Japan, I find it is essential that Japanese students have the opportunity to study and delve into these matters, just like Norwegian students should have knowledge of energy law considering its paramount importance for Norway says das Neves.

 No mobile phones in class

The Law researcher also enjoys observing similarities and differences between Norwegian and Japanese University life.

 She tells that the general ambient at the university is casual and friendly like in Norway, and students seem to have a good working relationship with their professors. They are however, more formal in the way they address a teacher and in how they behave in class: no use of mobile phones, no eating in class, no facebook, and so on.

– People in general are extremely polite, mindful of others, and make their best effort to help. They are also always very happy when I try to communicate with them in my rudimentary Japanese! tells das Neves.  

 Different system of evaluation

The way of teaching and evaluating is a bit different in Japan, compared to Norway.

For the courses the students have to prepare a number of practical cases and make a final presentation. Evaluation is based on class participation and this final presentation; there is no exam.

– This system actually encouraged the students to really engage in the classes and prepare the practical cases. Overall the final average grade for this course was 'A' so i was quite happy with the effort of the students, says das Neves.

 Can relate to Japanese matters

Her students seem to enjoy the course too.

– Students enjoyed the course even though they thought it was hard, because it involved studying a wide number of topics and fields of international law. Still they felt that each module had something that they could relate to concerning Japan. Some of the modules are closely connected with a number of sensitive matters concerning energy, currently being discussed in Japan, das Neves says.

 Lectures on Svalbard and the Snow crab

 Whilst at Kobe das Neves will also give a guest lecture on the topic “Svalbard’s Maritime Zones: ‘Testing the Waters’ for a Future Dispute” in the context of the international law symposiums organized by the Polar Cooperation Research Centre at the GSICS. Is the topic of Svalbard relevant for Japan?

 – Japan has a growing interest in Arctic issues and conducts scientific research in Svalbard. The topic of Svalbard is not particularly well known in Japan, and few Japanese academics have studied this matter. Still, I have learnt that at least one of these academics has urged Japan to make its interests and position towards the ‘Svalbard Issue’ clear; Japan has not yet made any official declaration concerning Svalbard’s maritime zones or the interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty. I have also been asked to provide an update on this topic taking into consideration latest developments, such as those relating to the ‘Snow crab row’.


Curious about the north

 She feels very well received by the Kobe University.

– Everyone is very kind and curious about what it is like to work in the world's northern most University, how we cope with winter darkness and summer light periods. It seems that my teaching assistant, who is writing his PhD on a law of the sea topic will apply for a research period at our KGJebsen Centre. I've also been introduced by the dean of the GSICS to the faculty members in their faculty meeting. I have a big office on campus for myself. Kobe has a remarkably good law library and I’m making the most of it while I’m here, das Neves tells.


 Exciting grocery shopping

One daily life routine has been a challenge, though:

– The major difference for me has been the food and the excitement of shopping. Shopping is a lot of fun because except for the items that I can visually identify (meat, vegetables, fruit...) I really have no idea whatsoever of what I'm actually buying. I make an educated guess based on the packaging and the shelf location in the supermarket and then I see what happens!