Gaia - Planetary Perspectives

Researchers Propose A Paradigm Shift With Planetary Commons To Safeguard Earth’s Critical Systems

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
University of Lincoln
January 24, 2024
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Researchers Propose A Paradigm Shift With Planetary Commons To Safeguard Earth’s Critical Systems
“Planetary Commons” needed to Safeguard Earth’s Critical Systems CREDIT University of Lincoln

A groundbreaking research paper, published this week in the renowned journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), challenges conventional notions of global commons and advocates for a more expansive framework called the “Planetary Commons.”

The study, conducted by a collaborative team of 22 leading international researchers – including Professor Louis Kotzé, Senior Professorial Fellow in Lincoln Law School and Professor Duncan French, Head of College of Health & Science and Professor of International Law – over nearly two years, calls for a paradigm shift in global governance to effectively safeguard the Earth’s critical systems.

The traditional concept of global commons, encompassing shared resources beyond national borders such as the deep oceans, high seas, the atmosphere, and Antarctica, is expanded upon by the researchers. They argue that these global commons must not only include geographic regions but also critical biophysical systems that regulate the resilience and state of the entire planet—what they term the Planetary Commons.

According to Professor Louis Kotzé, co-lead author and a legal expert affiliated with the University of Lincoln, UK, and North-West University in South Africa: “Our existing global environmental law and governance framework is unable to address the planetary crisis and keep us from crossing planetary boundaries. This is why we urgently need Planetary Commons as a new law and governance approach that can safeguard critical Earth system regulating functions more effectively.”

A map of climate tipping elements, i.e., Earth system subdomains that determine the state of the climate system and are susceptible to dramatic change if global warming crosses threshold values corresponding to their tipping points. The ranges of global warming values where a tipping point is found for a specific tipping element are presented in colors (yellow for <2 °C, orange for 2 to 4 °C, and dark red for ≥4 °C). The map is derived from Armstrong McKay et al. (6) and printed with permission from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. See SI Appendix, Glossary for key definitions.

The researchers stress that the Planetary Commons go beyond jurisdictional boundaries and sovereign entitlements. They argue that all states and people share a collective interest in protecting and effectively governing these critical Earth system functions for the collective good.

The researchers’ proposed framework, built on the idea of global commons but significantly expanded, addresses the unprecedented pressure that human activities place on Earth’s critical regulatory systems.

Fellow co-lead author, Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Professor of Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam, emphasises the need for transnational cooperation, stating: “To limit risks for human societies and secure critical Earth system functions, the researchers propose a new framework of planetary commons to guide governance of the planet. This planetary commons framework has the potential to initiate the long overdue paradigm shift that we urgently need to safeguard the Earth system.”

The publication marks a milestone in the intersection of law, politics, and Earth system science. The researchers hope that their work will contribute to the development of a new global governance approach to address the planetary crisis and secure the stability and resilience of Earth’s critical systems.

The planetary commons: A new paradigm for safeguarding Earth-regulating systems in the Anthropocene, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (open access)


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