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International Law for an Anthropocene Epoch

Anthropocene(10.06.2011) Has human influence pushed the Earth System into a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene? If so, how can international law respond to the challenges that are likely to occur as a result of such a shift?


New FNI project

A new FNI project takes as its starting point a concern increasingly voiced in natural science in recent years, that the Earth may be undergoing a shift from the latest known geological epoch, the Holocene, to a new one – the Anthropocene.

The Holocene has lasted for 11,700 years, and its relative environmental stability has been a significant factor for the development of human civilization. Human-induced effects may now have contributed decisively towards pushing the Earth System away from this.

The current international legal order lacks the capacity to respond adequately to the overall challenges to humankind, now conceivably already living in the Anthropocene. International law may be facing fundamental challenges, with the need emerging for pragmatic and feasible international law concepts, robust enough to tackle fundamentally new challenges.

This new FNI project focuses on how key areas of international law researched at the FNI – the law of the sea, environmental law and genetic resources law – can respond to the challenges that are likely to occur as a result of a shift to the Anthropocene epoch.

Davor Vidas"In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy established a working group composed of prominent experts in geology and a range of other scientific disciplines, in order to evaluate the validity of scientific evidence for formally recognising the Anthropocene as a new geological time unit. If scientifically verified in this way, the hypothesis of the Anthropocene could critically raise awareness and highlight the magnitude of human impact on the Earth System – and should invite fundamental reflection on our current social structures", says FNI Research Professor Davor Vidas.

Vidas leads the newly launched FNI project, which in addition includes Research Professor Ole Kristian Fauchald, Senior Research Fellow Morten Walløe Tvedt, and Research Fellow Øystein Jensen, all legal experts at FNI.


Legal implications of Anthropocene not an entirely new topic at FNI

FNI has already been involved for several years in the development of a scientific research base for the Anthropocene concept, especially since its conference on The World Ocean in Globalisation held in 2008. First results of research engagement on this theme were published in early 2010, in an essay by Davor Vidas on 'Responsibility for the Seas'. Davor Vidas has been a member of the ICS' Anthropocene Working Group since 2009.

The Geological Society of London recently organized an international conference entitled 'The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?' where Vidas gave a keynote speech on The Anthropocene and Law of the Oceans. This conference attracted considerable public interest.

Furthermore, Vidas was also invited to contribute an article on 'The Anthropocene and the International Law of the Sea' when the world's longest running scientific journal – Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – published a thematic issue on the Anthropocene earlier this year.

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Further information (links):
   Project homepage: International Law for an Anthropocene Epoch? Shifting Perspectives in the Law of the Sea, Environmental Law and Genetic Resources Law

 The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is an independent foundation engaged in research on international environmental, energy, and resource management politics.
The Institute maintains a multi-disciplinary approach, with main emphasis on political science, economics, and international law.



Fridtjof Nansen Institute
P.O. Box 326, 1326 Lysaker, Norway. Tel: (+47) 67111900 / E-mail: post (+@fni.no)