Skip to main content Accessibility help

International Environmental Law in the Anthropocene: Towards a Purposive System of Multilateral Environmental Agreements

  • Rakhyun E. Kim (a1) and Klaus Bosselmann (a2)

Our point of analytical departure is that the state of the global environment is deteriorating despite the accumulating body of international environmental law. By drawing on the recent Earth system science concept of interlinked planetary boundaries, this article makes a case for a goal-oriented, purposive system of multilateral environmental agreements. The notion of ‘goal’ is used here to mean a single, legally binding, superior norm – a grundnorm – that gives all international regimes and organizations a shared purpose to which their specific objectives must contribute. A bird’s eye view of the international environmental law system reveals how the absence of a unifying goal has created a condition that is conducive to environmental problem shifting rather than problem solving. We argue that a clearly agreed goal would provide the legal system with a point of reference for legal reasoning and interpretation, thereby enhancing institutional coherence across Earth’s subsystems. To this end, this article concludes by observing that the protection of the integrity of Earth’s life-support system has emerged as a common denominator among international environmental law instruments. Accordingly, we suggest that this notion is a strong candidate for the overarching goal of international environmental law.

Hide All

1 R.B. Mitchell, ‘International Environmental Agreements Database Project. Version 2013.1’, IEA Database Project, 2013, available at: For general information about MEAs see, e.g., Mitchell, R.B., ‘International Environmental Agreements: A Survey of Their Features, Formation, and Effects’ (2003) 28 Annual Review of Environment and Resources, pp. 429–61; Carruthers, C. et al. et al., Multilateral Environmental Agreement: Negotiator's Handbook (University of Joensuu Department of Law, 2007).

2 Steffen, W. et al. et al., Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure (IGBP Secretariat, 2004).

3 Rockström, J. et al. et al., ‘A Safe Operating Space for Humanity’ (2009) 461(7263) Nature, pp. 472–5. See also its critiques, e.g.,Brook, et al. et al., ‘Does the Terrestrial Biosphere Have Planetary Tipping Points?’ (2013) Trends in Ecology & Evolution (forthcoming). For identification of the nine planetary boundaries, see Section 2 and n. 28 below.

4 Crutzen, P.J., ‘Geology of Mankind’ (2002) 415(6867) Nature, p. 23; Steffen, W., Crutzen, P.J. & McNeill, J.R., ‘The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?’ (2007) 36(8) Ambio, pp. 614–21; Steffen, W. et al. et al., ‘The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship’ (2011) 40(7) Ambio, pp. 739–61; Steffen, W., Grinevald, J., Crutzen, P. & McNeill, J., ‘The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives’ (2011) 369 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, pp. 842–67.

5 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 21 Issues for the 21 stCentury: Results of the UNEP Foresight Process on Emerging Environmental Issues (UNEP, 2012), available at:

6 See, e.g., Haas, P.M., Keohane, R.O. & Levy, M.A. (eds), Institutions for the Earth: Sources of Effective International Environmental Protection (The MIT Press, 1993); Victor, D.G., Raustiala, K. & Skolnikoff, E.B. (eds), The Implementation and Effectiveness of International Environmental Commitments: Theory and Practice (The MIT Press, 1998); Young, O.R. (ed), The Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes: Causal Connections and Behavioral Mechanisms (The MIT Press, 1999); Louka, E., International Environmental Law: Fairness, Effectiveness, and World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

7 Sands, P. & Peel, J., Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012), at p. 894. On the notion of fragmentation in the international environmental law context, see, e.g., Weiss, E. Brown, ‘International Environmental Law: Contemporary Issues and the Emergence of a New World Order’ (1993) 81(675) Georgetown Law Journal, pp. 675710; Wolfrum, R. & Matz, N., Conflicts in International Environmental Law (Springer, 2003); Doelle, M., ‘Linking the Kyoto Protocol and Other Multilateral Environmental Agreements: From Fragmentation to Integration?’ (2004) 14 Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, pp. 75104; van Asselt, H., Sindico, F. & Mehling, M.A., ‘Global Climate Change and the Fragmentation of International Law’ (2008) 30(4) Law & Policy, pp. 423–49; Carlarne, C., ‘Good Climate Governance: Only a Fragmented System of International Law Away?’ (2008) 30(4) Law & Policy, pp. 450–80; Biermann, F., Pattberg, P., van Asselt, H. & Zelli, F., ‘The Fragmentation of Global Governance Architectures: A Framework for Analysis’ (2009) 9(4) Global Environmental Politics, pp. 1440; Scott, K.N., ‘International Environmental Governance: Managing Fragmentation through Institutional Connection’ (2011) 12(1) Melbourne Journal of International Law, pp. 177216; Anton, D.K., ‘“Treaty Congestion” in International Environmental Law’, in Alam, S., Bhuiyan, J.H., Chowdhury, T.M.R. & Techera, E.J. (eds), Routledge Handbook of International Environmental Law (Routledge, 2012); van Asselt, H., ‘Managing the Fragmentation of International Environmental Law: Forests at the Intersection of the Climate and Biodiversity Regimes’ (2012) 44(4) New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, pp. 1205–78.

8 Nilsson, M. & Persson, Å., ‘Can Earth System Interactions Be Governed? Governance Functions for Linking Climate Change Mitigation with Land Use, Freshwater and Biodiversity Protection’ (2012) 81 Ecological Economics, pp. 1020, at 12.

9 Yang, Y., Bae, J., Kim, J. & Suh, S., ‘Replacing Gasoline with Corn Ethanol Results in Significant Environmental Problem Shifting’ (2012) 46(7) Environmental Science & Technology, pp. 3671–8. See also de Sadeleer, N., Environmental Principles: From Political Slogans to Legal Rules (Oxford University Press, 2002), at p. 79.

10 K. von Moltke, ‘On Clustering International Environmental Agreements’, in G. Winter (ed), Multilevel Governance of Global Environmental Change: Perspectives from Science, Sociology and the Law (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

11 Biermann, F., ‘The Case for a World Environment Organization’ (2000) 42(9) Environment, pp. 2232; F. Biermann & S. Bauer (eds), A World Environment Organization: Solution or Threat for Effective International Environmental Governance? (Ashgate, 2005); Biermann, F., Davies, O. & van der Grijp, N., ‘Environmental Policy Integration and the Architecture of Global Environmental Governance’ (2009) 9(4) International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, pp. 351–69.

12 Ebbesson, J., ‘Lex Pernis Apivorus: An Experiment of Environmental Law Methodology’ (2003) 15(2) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 153–74; Carlman, I., ‘The Resource Management Act 1991 through External Eyes’ (2007) 11 New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 181210; Westerlund, S., ‘Theory for Sustainable Development: Towards or Against?’, in Bugge, H.C. & Voigt, C. (eds), Sustainable Development in International and National Law (Europa Law Publishing, 2008); Jóhannsdóttir, A., Cresswell, I. & Bridgewater, P., ‘The Current Framework for International Governance of Biodiversity: Is It Doing More Harm Than Good?’ (2010) 19(2) Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, pp. 139–49.

13 Westerlund, ibid.

14 Ebbesson, n. 12 above.

15 Jóhannsdóttir, Cresswell & Bridgewater, n. 12 above, at p. 141.

16 Carlman, n. 12 above; Ebbesson, n. 12 above; Jóhannsdóttir, Cresswell & Bridgewater, ibid.

17 Decleris, M., The Law of Sustainable Development: General Principles (Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2000), at p. 9. See also Ashby, W.R., An Introduction to Cybernetics (Chapman & Hall, 1956).

18 Westerlund, n. 12 above.

19 See, e.g., Haas, Keohane & Levy, n. 6 above.

20 See, e.g., Lafferty, W. & Hovden, E., ‘Environmental Policy Integration: Towards an Analytical Framework’ (2003) 12(3) Environmental Politics, pp. 122.

21 Steiner, A., Kimball, L.A. & Scanlon, J., ‘Global Governance for the Environment and the Role of Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Conservation’ (2003) 37(2) Oryx, pp. 227–37.

22 Rockström et al., n. 3 above.

23 Ibid. The scientists acknowledged that there could be need for additional planetary boundaries or the reformulation of existing ones as scientific research will continue to uncover more insights into the dynamics of the Earth system. See, e.g., Steffen, W., Rockström, J. & Costanza, R., ‘How Defining Planetary Boundaries Can Transform Our Approach to Growth’ (2011) 2(3) Solutions, available at:

24 Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. & Behrens, W.W., The Limits to Growth (Universe Books, 1972).

25 Ciriacy-Wantrup, S.V., Resource Conservation: Economics and Policies (University of California Press, 1952).

26 O’Riordan, T. & Cameron, J. (eds), Interpreting the Precautionary Principle (Earthscan, 1994); Raffensperger, C. & Tickner, W. (eds), Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle (Island Press, 1999).

27 German Advisory Council on Global Change, Scenario for the Derivation of Global CO 2Reduction Targets and Implementation Strategies: Statement on the Occasion of the First Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Berlin (Secretariat of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, 1995).

28 Estimates indicate that the first three of the nine boundaries listed have already been crossed. For a detailed description of the method used to quantify planetary boundaries, see Rockström, J. et al. et al., ‘Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity’ (2009) 14(2) Ecology and Society, available at:

29 Biermann, F., ‘Planetary Boundaries and Earth System Governance: Exploring the Links’ (2012) 81 Ecological Economics, pp. 49 (discussing that the scientific determination of planetary boundaries is a political process).

30 Ibid. Sustainable development is arguably an emergent collective objective of the international community. See, e.g., The Future We Want, UNGA Resolution A/RES/66/288, 11 Sep. 2012, Annex, available at: See also Voigt, C., Sustainable Development as a Principle of International Law: Resolving Conflicts between Climate Measures and WTO Law (Martinus Nijhoff, 2009); Tladi, D., Sustainable Development in International Law: An Analysis of Key Enviro-Economic Instruments (Pretoria University Law Press, 2007); Weeramantry, C.G., Universalising International Law (Martinus Nijhoff, 2004).

31 Note that the planetary boundaries approach says nothing about the distribution of affluence and technologies among human societies. Thus, remaining within planetary boundaries is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for sustainable development: Steffen, Rockström & Costanza, n. 23 above.

32 See, e.g., Bosselmann, K., The Principle of Sustainability: Transforming Law and Governance (Ashgate, 2008); Voigt, n. 30 above; Lafferty & Hovden, n. 20 above.

33 Bosselmann, K., ‘Grounding the Rule of Law’, in Bugge, H.C. & Voigt, C. (eds), Rule of Law for Nature: Basic Issues and New Developments in Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2013).

34 Referring to the source (Grund) of the validity of positive law. According to Kelsen’s pure legal theory, the validity of positive law is conditional on the acceptance of a (not predefined) grundnorm.

35 Kant, I., Die Metaphysik der Sitten, Bd. VI (Akademieausgabe, 1907).

36 Compare with the views of Earth system science and governance scholars who argued that the planetary boundaries concept invites us to explore further the possible applicability of the concept of jus cogens in the international environmental law context. Galaz, V. et al. et al., ‘“Planetary Boundaries” – Exploring the Challenges for Global Environmental Governance’ (2012) 4(1) Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, pp. 80–7; Walker, B. et al. et al., ‘Looming Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions’ (2009) 325(5946) Science, pp. 1345–6; Biermann, n. 29 above.

37 E.Feteris, T., Fundamentals of Legal Argumentation: A Survey of Theories on the Justification of Judicial Decisions (Springer, 1999), at p. 144.

38 In his comprehensive analysis of legal reasoning in the context of international and domestic environmental law, Douglas Fisher concludes that ‘the point of commencement’ is the most important issue of any process of legal reasoning. Once this has been determined, the process of reasoning will assume the form that the point of commencement dictates: see Fisher, D.E., Legal Reasoning in Environmental Law: A Study of Structure, Form and Language (Edward Elgar, 2013), at p. 456. Crucially, the absence of an environmental grundnorm creates a vacuum that is currently filled with utilitarian, state-centred and other traditional considerations that can be perceived as in themselves reflecting a certain grundnorm or ‘core adjudicatory norm’: Bosselmann, n. 32 above, at p. 67.

39 In fact, each proposed boundary position assumes that no other boundaries are transgressed: Rockström et al., n. 3 above. See also Galaz, V. et al. et al., ‘Institutional and Political Leadership Dimensions of Cascading Ecological Crises’ (2011) 89(2) Public Administration, pp. 361–80.

40 See, e.g., Duit, A. & Galaz, V., ‘Governance and Complexity – Emerging Issues for Governance Theory’ (2008) 21(3) Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, pp. 311–35; Duit, A., Galaz, V., Eckerberg, K. & Ebbesson, J., ‘Governance, Complexity, and Resilience’ (2010) 20(3) Global Environmental Change, pp. 363–8; Galaz, V., ‘Double Complexity: Information Technology and Reconfigurations in Adaptive Governance’, in Boyd, E. & Folke, C. (eds), Adapting Institutions: Governance, Complexity and Social-Ecological Resilience (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 193215.

41 Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Report of the Second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change (SCBD, 2009).

42 Parish, F. et al. et al., Assessment of Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Main Report (Global Environment Centre and Wetlands International, 2008), available at:; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water (World Resources Institute, 2005), at p. 34, available at:

43 Snyder, P.K., Foley, J.A., Hitchman, M.H. & Delire, C.J., ‘Analyzing the Effects of Complete Tropical Forest Removal on the Regional Climate Using a Detailed Three-dimensional Energy Budget: An Application to Africa’ (2004) 109Journal of Geophysical Research, D21102; Lenton, T.M. et al. et al., ‘Tipping Elements in the Earth’s Climate System’ (2008) 105(6) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 1786–93.

44 See, e.g., Lafferty & Hovden, n. 20 above; Sanwal, M., ‘Trends in Global Environmental Governance: The Emergence of a Mutual Supportiveness Approach to Achieve Sustainable Development’ (2004) 4(4) Global Environmental Politics, pp. 1622; Pavoni, R., ‘Mutual Supportiveness as a Principle of Interpretation and Law-Making: A Watershed for the “WTO-and-Competing-Regimes” Debate?’ (2010) 21(3) European Journal of International Law, pp. 649–79. See also Boyle, A., ‘Relationship between International Environmental Law and Other Branches of International Law’, in Bodansky, D., Brunnée, J. & Hey, E. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (Oxford University Press, 2007).

45 ‘Coherence’ means a state in which different institutional components are compatible and mutually reinforcing: Keohane, R.O. & Victor, D.G., ‘The Regime Complex for Climate Change’ (2011) 9(1) Perspectives on Politics, pp. 723, at 16. See also Nilsson, M. et al. et al., ‘Understanding Policy Coherence: Analytical Framework and Examples of Sector-Environment Policy Interactions in the EU’ (2012) 22(6) Environmental Policy and Governance, pp. 395423.

46 The notion of ‘object and purpose’ of a treaty is a relatively more concrete aim that can be achieved by following a certain number of steps, or used as a direct measure of the legality of state behaviour. See, e.g., Klabbers, J., ‘Treaties, Object and Purpose’, in Wolfrum, R. (ed), Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford University Press, 2008), available at:

47 Keohane & Victor, n. 45 above.

48 G. Handl, ‘Transboundary Impacts’, in Bodansky, Brunnée & Hey, n. 44 above, pp. 531–49.

49 Convention between the United States and Other Powers Providing for the Preservation and Protection of Fur Seals, Washington, DC (US), 7 Jul. 1911, in force 15 Dec. 1911, available at:

50 Convention for Settlement of Difficulties Arising from Operation of Smelter at Trail, Ottawa (Canada), 15 Apr. 1935, in force 3 Aug. 1935, available at:

51 See, e.g., Mitchell, International Environmental Agreements Database Project, n. 1 above.

52 For the relationship between law, governance, and globalization in the environmental context, see Kotzé, L.J., Global Environmental Governance: Law and Regulation for the 21st Century (Edward Edgar, 2012).

53 See, e.g., Steiner, Kimball & Scanlon, n. 21 above.

54 Churchill, R.R. & Ulfstein, G., ‘Autonomous Institutional Arrangements in Multilateral Environmental Agreements: A Little-Noticed Phenomenon in International Law’ (2000) 94(4) American Journal of International Law, pp. 623–59.

55 Ostrom, V., ‘Polycentricity (Part 1)’, in McGinnis, M. (ed), Polycentricity and Local Public Economies (University of Michigan Press, 1999). See also Ostrom, E., ‘Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change’ (2010) 20(4) Global Environmental Change, pp. 550–7.

56 There is no single legislative will behind international environmental law. Each MEA’s Conference of the Parties is a de facto lawmaker. See, e.g., Brunnée, J., ‘COPing with Consent: Law-Making under Multilateral Environmental Agreements’ (2002) 15(1) Leiden Journal of International Law, pp. 152. See also Moncel, R. & van Asselt, H., ‘All Hands on Deck! Mobilizing Climate Change Action beyond the UNFCCC’ (2012) 21(3) Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, pp. 163–76.

57 Long, A., ‘Developing Linkages to Preserve Biodiversity’ (2010) 21(1) Yearbook of International Environmental Law, pp. 4180; Kiss, A. & Shelton, D., International Environmental Law (Transnational, 2004).

58 Bodansky, D., ‘Is There an International Environmental Constitution?’ (2009) 16(2) Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, pp. 565–84. See also Birnie, P., Boyle, A. & Redgwell, C., International Law and the Environment (Oxford University Press, 2009); Sands & Peel, n. 7 above.

59 See, e.g., Steiner, H.J., Alston, P. & Goodman, R., International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals (Oxford University Press, 2008).

60 Paris (France), 10 Dec. 1948, available at:

61 ‘Free trade has achieved peremptory status by reason of the social power, market prominence, and ideological productivity of the social forces who support the EU, Nafta and WTO’: Allen, M.H., ‘Globalization and Peremptory Norms in International Law: From Westphalian to Global Constitutionalism?’ (2004) 41 International Politics, pp. 341–53, at 346. See also van den Bossche, P., The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization: Text, Cases and Materials (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

62 Van den Bossche, ibid. Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Marrakesh (Morocco), 15 Apr. 1994, in force 1 Jan. 1995, available at:

63 See, e.g., Sands, P., ‘Turtles and Torturers: The Transformation of International Law’ (2001) 33 New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, pp. 527–59.

64 Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, UN Doc. A/Conf.48/14/Rev.1(1973), 16 Jun. 1972, available at:

65 UNGA Resolution A/RES/37/7, 28 Oct. 1982, available at:

66 Adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 3–14 June 1992, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26/Rev.1 (Vol. I), 14 Jun. 1992, available at:

67 Bodansky, n. 58 above.

68 French, D., ‘Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Legal Status of the Secretariats by Bharat H. Desai’ (2011) 23(1) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 155–7, at 155. See also Sands & Peel, n. 7 above, at p. 42.

69 Sands & Peel, ibid.

70 Dupuy, P.-M., ‘Soft Law and the International Law of the Environment’ (1991) 12(2) Michigan Journal of International Law, pp. 420–35; Abbott, K.W. & Snidal, D., ‘Hard and Soft Law in International Governance’ (2000) 54(3) International Organization, pp. 421–56.

71 Shelton, D., ‘Normative Hierarchy in International Law’ (2006) 100(261) American Journal of International Law, pp. 291323.

72 Bodansky, n. 58 above, at p. 567.

73 Ibid., at p. 584.

74 For a notable exception, see Taylor, P., An Ecological Approach to International Law: Responding to the Challenges of Climate Change (Routledge, 1998).

75 See, e.g., Steiner, Kimball & Scanlon, n. 21 above; Mee, L.D., ‘The Role of UNEP and UNDP in Multilateral Environmental Agreements’ (2005) 5(3) International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, pp. 227–63; Andresen, S., ‘The Effectiveness of UN Environmental Institutions’ (2007) 7(4) International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, pp. 317–36.

76 See, e.g., R.T. Watson et al., Protecting Our Planet Securing Our Future: Linkages Among Global Environmental Issues and Human Needs (UNEP, US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The World Bank, 1998); United Nations University, Inter-Linkages: Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements (United Nations University, 1999); UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Synergies and Cooperation: A Status Report on Activities Promoting Synergies and Cooperation between Multilateral Environmental Agreements, in Particular Biodiversity-related Conventions, and Related Mechanisms (UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2004).

77 New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at:

78 UNFCCC, ibid., Art. 8(2)(e).

79 UNFCCC, ibid., Art. 7(2)(1).

80 See, e.g., Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariat and the Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar), UN Doc. UNEP/CBD/COP/3/Inf.38, 15 Oct. 1996, available at:

81 Hayward, J., Elitism, Populism, and European Politics (Oxford University Press, 1996) (the notion applied in the context of European political unification).

82 Wolfrum & Matz, n. 7 above; van Asselt, n. 7 above; Doelle, n. 7. above; Fitzmaurice, M. & Elias, O., Contemporary Issues in the Law of Treaties (Eleven International, 2005). See also Pauwelyn, J., Conflict of Norms in International Law: How WTO Law Relates to Other Rules of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2003); Borgen, C.J., ‘Resolving Treaty Conflicts’ (2005) 37(3) George Washington International Law Review, pp. 573648.

83 On the notion of ‘ad hoc-ism’ in the global environmental governance context, see Najam, A., ‘Future Directions: The Case for a “Law of the Atmosphere”’ (2000) 34(23) Atmospheric Environment, pp. 4047–9.

84 See, e.g., Borgen, C.J., ‘Treaty Conflicts, and Fragmentation’, Normative, in Hollis, D.B. (ed), The Oxford Guide to Treaties (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 448–71.

85 For a similar argument in the wider context of sustainable development, see Lafferty & Hovden, n. 20 above; Voigt, n. 30 above.

86 See, e.g., 2005 World Summit Outcome, UNGA Resolution A/RES/60/1, 24 Oct. 2005, at para. 169, available at:

87 Van Asselt, n. 7 above, at p. 1265.

88 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 5 Jun. 1992, in force 29 Dec. 1993, available at:

89 Views on the Paper on Options for Enhanced Cooperation among the Three Rio Conventions Submissions from Parties, UN Doc. FCCC/SBSTA/2006/MISC.4, 23 Mar. 2006, at p. 16.

90 Report on the work of the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its Eleventh Meeting, UN Doc. A/65/164, 23 Jul. 2010, at para. 90. See also Diz, D. et al. et al., ‘Summary of the Resumed Review Conference of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement: 24–28 May 2010’ (2010) 7(65) Earth Negotiations Bulletin, pp. 114, at 7.

91 Wolfrum & Matz, n. 7 above, at p. 163; Van Asselt, n. 7 above, at pp. 1265–6.

92 Scott, n. 7 above, at p. 214.

93 Multilateral Environmental Agreements: A Summary, UN Doc. UNEP/IGM/1/INF/1, 30 Mar. 2001, at para. 42.

94 For a review of the contemporary debate on sovereignty, see Bartelson, J., ‘The Concept of Sovereignty Revisited’ (2006) 17(2) European Journal of International Law, pp. 463–74.

95 Examples include the prohibition of aggression, slavery, genocide, racial discrimination, and torture: Brownlie, I., Principles of Public International Law (Oxford University Press, 6th edn, 2003), at p. 515. See also Steiner, Alston & Goodman, n. 59 above. For the concept of jus cogens, see, e.g., J.A. Frowein, ‘Ius Cogens’, in Wolfrum, n. 46 above; Shelton, n. 71 above.

96 See, e.g., Bull, K., Hoft, R. & Sutton, M.A., ‘Coordinating European Nitrogen Policies between International Conventions and Intergovernmental Organizations’, in Sutton, M.A. et al. et al. (eds), The European Nitrogen Assessment (Cambridge University Press, 2011), at p. 577.

97 Moncel & Van Asselt, n. 56 above, at p. 174.

98 Chambers, W.B., Interlinkages and the Effectiveness of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (United Nations University Press, 2008), at p. 7.

99 See, e.g., Sands & Peel, n. 7 above, at p. 893.

100 Teclaff, L.A. & Teclaff, E., ‘Transfers of Pollution and the Marine Environment Conventions’ (1991) 31 Natural Resources Journal, pp. 187211.

101 Montego Bay (Jamaica), 10 Dec. 1982, in force 16 Nov. 1994, available at:

102 UNCLOS, ibid., Art. 195.

103 Biofuels are fuels derived from biomass or waste feedstocks and include ethanol and biodiesel: see, e.g., International Energy Agency, available at:

104 European Environment Agency, ‘Opinion of the EEA Scientific Committee on Greenhouse Gas Accounting in Relation to Bioenergy’, 15 Sep. 2011, at pp. 5–6, available at:

105 Danielsen, F. et al. et al., ‘Biofuel Plantations on Forested Lands: Double Jeopardy for Biodiversity and Climate’ (2008) 23(2) Conservation Biology, pp. 348–58; Fargione, J. et al. et al., ‘Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt’ (2008) 319(5867) Science, pp. 1235–8; Searchinger, T. et al. et al., ‘Use of US Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land-Use Change’ (2008) 319(5867) Science, pp. 1238–40.

106 Kim, H., Kim, S. & Dale, B.E., ‘Biofuels, Land Use Change, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Some Unexplored Variables’ (2009) 43(3) Environmental Science & Technology, pp. 961–7.

107 European Environment Agency, n. 104 above, at p. 8.

108 Yang, Bae, Kim & Suh, n. 9 above; Jackson, R.B., et al. et al., ‘Trading Water for Carbon with Biological Carbon Sequestration’ (2005) 310(5756) Science, pp. 1944–7; Pimentel, D., ‘The Ecological and Energy Integrity of Corn Ethanol Production’, in Westra, L., Bosselmann, K. & Westra, R. (eds), Reconciling Human Existence with Ecological Integrity (Earthscan, 2008), pp. 245–56.

109 Tilman, D. et al. et al., ‘Beneficial Biofuels – The Food, Energy, and Environment Trilemma’ (2009) 325(5938) Science pp. 270–1.

110 ‘“Forest” is a minimum area of land of 0.05–1.0 hectares with tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10–30 per cent with trees with the potential to reach a minimum height of 2–5 metres at maturity in situ. A forest may consist either of closed forest formations where trees of various storeys and undergrowth cover a high proportion of the ground or open forest. Young natural stands and all plantations which have yet to reach a crown density of 10–30 per cent or tree height of 2–5 metres are included under forest, as are areas normally forming part of the forest area which are temporarily unstocked as a result of human intervention such as harvesting or natural causes but which are expected to revert to forest’: Report of the Conference of the Parties on its Seventh Session, held at Marrakesh from 29 October to 10 November 2001, Addendum, Part Two: Action Taken by the Conference of the Parties, Vol. I, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2001/13/Add.1, 21 Jan. 2002, at p. 58.

111 Decision 2/CP.7, The Marrakesh Accords, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2001/13/Add.1, 21 Jan. 2002.

112 Sasaki, N. & Putz, F.E., ‘Critical Need for New Definitions of “Forest” and “Forest Degradation” in Global Climate Change Agreements’ (2009) 2(5) Conservation Letters, pp. 226–32; Glomsrød, S., Wei, T., Liu, G. & Aune, J.B., ‘How Well Do Tree Plantations Comply with the Twin Targets of the Clean Development Mechanism? – The Case of Tree Plantations in Tanzania’ (2011) 70(6) Ecological Economics, pp. 1066–74.

113 Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. & Chhatre, A., ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (2011) 36(1) Annual Review of Environment and Resources, pp. 373–96; Putz, F.E. & Redford, K., ‘Dangers of Carbon-based Conservation’ (2009) 19(4) Global Environmental Change, pp. 400–1; Strassburg, B.B.N. et al. et al., ‘Global Congruence of Carbon Storage and Biodiversity in Terrestrial Ecosystems’ (2010) 3(2) Conservation Letters, pp. 98105.

114 Williamson, P. et al. et al., ‘Ocean Fertilization for Geoengineering: A Review of Effectiveness, Environmental Impacts and Emerging Governance’ (2012) 90(6) Process Safety and Environmental Protection, pp. 475–88; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Fertilization on Marine Biodiversity (SCBD, 2009). See also Metz, B. et al. et al. (eds), Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2007), at pp. 624–5.

115 Decision IX/16, Biodiversity and Climate Change, UN Doc. UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/IX/16, 9 Oct. 2008, at p. 7. See also Decision X/33, Biodiversity and Climate Change, UN Doc. UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/X/33, 29 Oct. 2010, at p. 5.

116 For general discussions on the legal dimension of ocean fertilization, see, e.g., Freestone, D. & Rayfuse, R., ‘Ocean Iron Fertilization and International Law’ (2008) 364 Marine Ecology Progress Series, pp. 227–33; Abate, R.S. & Greenlee, A.B., ‘Sowing Seeds Uncertain: Ocean Iron Fertilization, Climate Change, and the International Environmental Law Framework’ (2010) 27(2) Pace Environmental Law Review, pp. 555–98; Bertram, C., ‘Ocean Iron Fertilization in the Context of the Kyoto Protocol and the Post-Kyoto Process’ (2010) 38(2) Energy Policy, pp. 1130–9; VanderZwaag, D.L., ‘Ocean Dumping and Fertilization in the Antarctic: Tangled Legal Currents, Sea of Challenges’, in Berkman, P.A., Lang, M.A., Walton, D.W.H. & Young, O.R. (eds), Science Diplomacy: Antarctica, Science, and the Governance of International Spaces (Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2011), pp. 245–52; Warner, R., ‘Marine Snow Storms: Assessing the Environmental Risks of Ocean Fertilization’ (2009) 3(4) Carbon and Climate Law Review, pp. 426–36.

117 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, London (United Kingdom), 29 Dec. 1972, in force 30 Aug. 1975, available at:

118 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, London (United Kingdom), 7 Nov. 1996, in force 24 Mar. 2006, available at:

119 See, e.g., Zeebe, R.E., Zachos, J.C., Caldeira, K. & Tyrrell, T., ‘Carbon Emissions and Acidification’, (2008) 321(5885) Science, pp. 51–2.

120 Caldeira, K. & Wickett, M.E., ‘Anthropogenic Carbon and Ocean pH’ (2003) 425(6956) Nature, pp. 365–8. The increasing acidity is predicted to have dire consequences for many marine ecosystems and species, especially those organisms that form shells and plates out of calcium carbonate, such as coral reefs: Riebesell, U. et al. et al., ‘Reduced Calcification of Marine Plankton in Response to Increased Atmospheric CO2’ (2000) 407(6802) Nature, pp. 364–7; Orr, J.C. et al. et al., ‘Anthropogenic Ocean Acidification over the Twenty-first Century and Its Impact on Calcifying Organisms’ (2005) 437(7059) Nature, pp. 681–6; Hoegh-Guldberg, O. et al. et al., ‘Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification’ (2007) 318(5857) Science, pp. 1737–42; Fabry, V.J., Seibel, B.A., Feely, R.A. & Orr, J.C., ‘Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Fauna and Ecosystem Processes’ (2008) 65(3) ICES Journal of Marine Science, pp. 414–32.

121 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto (Japan), 11 Dec. 1997, in force 16 Feb. 2005, available at:

122 Kim, R.E., ‘Is a New Multilateral Environmental Agreement on Ocean Acidification Necessary?’ (2012) 21(3) Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, pp. 243–58; Baird, R., Simons, M. & Stephens, T., ‘Ocean Acidification: A Litmus Test for International Law’ (2009) 3(4) Carbon and Climate Law Review, pp. 459–71; Harrould-Kolieb, E.R. & Herr, D., ‘Ocean Acidification and Climate Change: Synergies and Challenges of Addressing Both under the UNFCCC’ (2012) 12 Climate Policy, pp. 378–89; Lamirande, H.R., ‘From Sea to Carbon Cesspool: Preventing the World’s Marine Ecosystems from Falling Victim to Ocean Acidification’ (2011) 34(1) Suffolk Transnational Law Review, pp. 183217.

123 Baird, Simons & Stephens, ibid.

124 UNFCCC, n. 77 above, Art. 4(1)(d); Kyoto Protocol, n. 121 above, Art. 2(1)(a)(ii).

125 Ocean iron fertilization could, in theory, reduce the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and hence the rate of ocean acidification in the upper ocean. However, if deployed on a climatically significant scale, this approach would relocate acidification from the upper ocean to mid- or deep water, where biota may be more sensitive to pH changes: Cao, L. & Caldeira, K., ‘Can Ocean Iron Fertilization Mitigate Ocean Acidification?’ (2010) 99(1–2) Climatic Change, pp. 303–11; Caldeira, K. & Duffy, P.B., ‘The Role of the Southern Ocean in Uptake and Storage of Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide’ (2000) 287(5453) Science, pp. 620–2; Williamson, P. & Turley, C., ‘Ocean Acidification in a Geoengineering Context’ (2012) 370(1974) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, pp. 4317–42.

126 Scott, K.N., ‘International Law in the Anthropocene: Responding to the Geoengineering Challenge’ (2013) 34(2) Michigan Journal of International Law, pp. 309–58.

127 Jóhannsdóttir, Cresswell & Bridgewater, n. 12 above.

128 Proelss, A. & Krivickaite, M., ‘Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change’ (2009) 3(4) Carbon and Climate Law Review, pp. 437–45, at 438.

129 See, e.g., Hirsch, P.D. et al. et al., ‘Acknowledging Conservation Trade-Offs and Embracing Complexity’ (2011) 25(2) Conservation Biology, pp. 259–64.

130 Ruhl, J.B., ‘The Fitness of Law: Using Complexity Theory to Describe the Evolution of Law and Society and Its Practical Meaning for Democracy’ (1996) 49 Vanderbilt Law Review, pp. 1406–90, at 1444.

131 Meadows, D.H., Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Chelsea Green, 2008), at p. 137.

132 Ibid.

133 See, e.g., Folke, C. et al. et al., ‘Reconnecting to the Biosphere’ (2011) 40(7) Ambio, pp. 719–38.

134 This notion is adapted from Backer, L.C., ‘The Structural Characteristics of Global Law for the 21st Century: Fracture, Fluidity, Permeability, and Polycentricity’ (2012) 17(2) Tilburg Law Review, pp. 177–99, at 180.

135 Meadows, n. 131 above, at pp. 161–2.

136 Schelling, T.C., Micromotives and Macrobehavior (Norton, 1978).

137 Meadows, n. 131 above, at p. 162; S.A. Levin, ‘Complex Adaptive Systems: Exploring the Known, the Unknown and the Unknowable’ (2002) 40(1) Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, pp. 3–19.

138 Meadows, ibid.

139 Unger, R., Law in Modern Society (Free Press, 1976), at p. 194.

140 Steiner, Kimball & Scanlon, n. 21 above.

141 Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission (ILC), Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law, UN Doc. A/CN.4/L.682, 13 Apr. 2006.

142 Vienna (Austria), 23 May 1969, in force 27 Jan. 1980, available at:

143 VCLT, ibid., Art. 31(3)(c).

144 We note that the formulation of Article 31(3)(c) has been criticized as unclear both in its substantive and temporal scope and its normative force. See, e.g., Linderfalk, U., ‘Who Are “The Parties”? Article 31, Paragraph 3(c) of the 1969 Vienna Convention and the “Principle of Systemic Integration” Revisited’ (2008) 55(3) Netherlands International Law Review, pp. 343–64; McLachlan, C., ‘The Principle of Systemic Integration and Article 31(3)(c) of the Vienna Convention’ (2005) 54(2) International and Comparative Law Quarterly, pp. 279319; Tzevelekos, V.P., ‘The Use of Article 31(3)(c) of the VCLT in the Case Law of the ECtHR: An Effective Anti-Fragmentation Tool or a Selective Loophole for the Reinforcement of Human Rights Teleology?’ (2010) 31 Michigan Journal of International Law, pp. 621–90.

145 Xue Hanqin’s remark during the debates in the International Law Commission on the significance of Article 31(3)(c): ILC, n. 141 above, at p. 211.

146 Kauffman, S., At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (Oxford University Press, 1995). For a general introduction to complex adaptive systems, see, e.g., Holland, J.H., Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (Perseus Books Group, 1995); Levin, S.A., Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons (Perseus Books Group, 1999); Miller, J.H. & Page, S.E., Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (Princeton University Press, 2007); Mitchell, M., Complexity: A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, 2009).

147 Kauffman, ibid, at p. 267.

148 Steiner, Kimball & Scanlon, n. 21 above.

149 Possibilities include fundamental ethical change promoted through a global treaty or the Earth Charter (see, e.g., Taylor, n. 74 above, at pp. 323–44), jurisprudential advancements through academic literature or judicial reasoning, or incremental changes through legal agreements or institutional reform. See Bugge & Voigt, n. 33 above.

150 Latham, G.P. & Locke, E.A., ‘Self-Regulation through Goal Setting’ (1991) 50 Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, pp. 212–47.

151 Agreement between the United States of America and Canada on Great Lakes Water Quality (GLWQ Agreement), Ottawa (Canada), 22 Nov. 1978, in force 22 Nov. 1978, available at:

152 GLWQA, ibid., Art. II.

153 Canberra (Australia), 20 May 1980, in force 7 Apr. 1982, available at:

154 Ibid., Preamble.

155 See, e.g., Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean, Barcelona (Spain), 10 Jun. 1995, in force 12 Dec. 1999, available at:

156 N. 65 above.

157 N. 66 above.

158 Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26, 14 Jun. 1992, available at:

159 IUCN Environmental Law Programme, Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development. Fourth edition: Updated Text (IUCN Environmental Law Programme & International Council of Environmental Law, 2010), available at:

160 The Earth Charter Initiative, The Earth Charter (The Earth Charter Initiative, 2000), available at:

161 Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, UN Doc. A/CONF.199/20, 4 Sep. 2002, available at:

162 N. 30 above.

163 Rio Declaration, n. 66 above, Preamble.

164 Rio Declaration, ibid., Principle 7.

165 World Charter for Nature, n. 65 above, Principle 4.

166 Earth Charter, n. 160 above, Principle 5.

167 Draft International Covenant, n. 159 above, Art. 2. This was reflected in the text upon consulting with the drafters of the Earth Charter to ensure consistency among the principles set forth in both texts.

168 Bosselmann, n. 32 above, at pp. 162–74.

169 Karr, J.R., ‘Biological Integrity: A Long-Neglected Aspect of Water Resource Management’ (1991) 1(1) Ecological Applications, pp. 6684; Karr, J.R. & Chu, E.W., ‘Ecological Integrity: Reclaiming Lost Connections’, in Westra, L. & Lemons, J. (eds), Perspectives on Ecological Integrity (Kluwer Academic, 1995), pp. 3448.

170 Griggs, D. et al. et al., ‘Sustainable Development Goals for People and Planet’ (2013) 495 Nature, pp. 305–7. See also Petit, J.R. et al. et al., ‘Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica’ (1999) 399(6735) Nature, pp. 429–36 (finding that the Holocene is by far the longest stable warm period during the past 420,000 years).

171 Rockström et al., n. 3 above.

172 Griggs et al., n. 170 above.

173 Griggs et al., ibid. See also Anton, D.K., ‘The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and the Future of International Environmental Protection’ (2012) 7(1) Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, pp. 5561.

174 Rockström et al., n. 28 above. See also Running, S.W., ‘A Measurable Planetary Boundary for the Biosphere’ (2012) 337(6101) Science, pp. 1458–9.

175 P. Roderick, ‘The Feasibility of Environmental Limits Legislation’, WWF-UK, 2011, available at:

176 Decision X/2, The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, UN Doc. UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/X/2, 29 Oct. 2010.

177 Vidas, D., ‘The Anthropocene and the International Law of the Sea’ (2011) 369(1938) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, pp. 909–25, at 923–4.

178 Steffen, Rockström & Costanza, n. 23 above.

179 Biermann, F. et al. et al., ‘Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance’ (2012) 335(6074) Science, pp. 1306–7. See also Bosselmann, K., Brown, P.G. & Mackey, B., ‘Enabling a Flourishing Earth: Challenges for the Green Economy, Opportunities for Global Governance’ (2012) 21(1) Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, pp. 2330.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Transnational Environmental Law
  • ISSN: 2047-1025
  • EISSN: 2047-1033
  • URL: /core/journals/transnational-environmental-law
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed