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International Law for an Anthropocene Epoch? Shifting Perspectives in the Law of the Sea, Environmental Law and Genetic Resources Law

AnthropoceneThis project takes as its starting point a concern increasingly expressed in natural science in recent years, on the possible shift from the Holocene to a new epoch, the Anthropocene. Human-induced effects, it is held, might contribute decisively towards pushing the Earth System away from the Holocene, the latest geological epoch of 11,700 years characterised by environmental stability and, as such, a factor significant for the development of human civilisation.

In 2009, a working group was established within the International Commission on Stratigraphy in order to examine the stratigraphic basis for the term "Anthropocene" and to consider the justification for its possible formalisation as the most recent geological time unit. Formal recognition of the Anthropocene as a new geological unit in the history of the planet, supported by firm geological evidence could critically raise awareness and highlight the magnitude of human impact on the Earth System.

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 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.

Project leader: Davor Vidas

Project period: 2011-2015


Research articles

Vidas, Davor, Ole Kristian Fauchald, Øystein Jensen and Morten Walløe Tvedt, 'International law for the Anthropocene? Shifting perspectives in regulation of the oceans, environment and genetic resources'. Anthropocene, Vol 9, 2015, pp. 1-13.

Zalasiewicz, J., C. Waters, A. Barnosky, A. Cearreta, M. Edgeworth, E. Ellis, A. Galuszka, P. Gibbard, J. Grinevald, I. Hajdas, J. do Sul, C. Jeandel, R. Leinfelder, J. McNeill, C. Poirier, A. Revkin, D. Richter, W. Steffen, C. Summerhayes, J. Syvitski, D. Vidas, M. Wagreich, M. Williams and A. Wolfe, 'Colonization of the Americas, ‘Little Ice Age’ climate, and bomb-produced carbon: Their role in defining the Anthropocene'. The Anthropocene Review, Vol 2, No 2, 2015, pp. 117-127.

Zalasiewicz, J., C.N. Waters, M. Williams, A.D. Barnosky, A. Cearreta, P. Crutzen, E. Ellis, M.A. Ellis, I.J. Fairchild, J. Grinevald, P.K. Haff, I. Hajdas, R. Leinfelder, J. McNeill, E.O. Odada, C. Poirier, D. Richter, W. Steffen, C. Summerhayes, J.P. Syvitski, D. Vidas, M. Wagreich, S.L. Wing, A.P. Wolfe, A. Zhisheng, N. Oreskes, 'When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal', Quaternary International, Vol 383, 05.10.2015, pp. 196-203.

Vidas, Davor, 'Sea Level Rise and International Law: At the Convergence of Two Epochs'. Climate Law, Vol 4, Nos 1-2, 2014, pp. 70-84.

Vidas, Davor, 'International Law and Sea Level Rise: The Role of the International Law Association'. MEPIELAN eBulletin, No 1, February 2014.

Vidas, Davor, 'The Anthropocene and the International Law of the Sea' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Vol 369, No 1938, 2011, pp. 909-925.

Book chapters

Vidas, Davor, 'Oceans in the Anthropocene - and Rules of the Holocene'. In N. Möllers, C. Schwägerl and H. Trischler (eds), Welcome to the Anthropocene. Munich, Deutsches Museum Verlag, 2015, pp. 56-59.

Vidas, Davor, 'Meere im Anthropozän - und die Regeln das Holozäns' ('Oceans in the Anthropocene - and the Rules of the Holocene'). In N. Möllers, C. Schwägerl and H. Trischler (eds), Willkommen im Anthropozän. Munich, Deutsches Museum Verlag, 2015, pp. 56-60. In German.

Vidas, Davor and Maja Markovcic Kostelac, 'Ballast Water and Alien Species: Regulating Global Transfers and Regional Consequences'. In Davor Vidas and Peter Johan Schei (eds), The World Ocean in Globalisation. Leiden/Boston, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers/Brill, 2011, pp. 371-392.

Vidas, Davor and Peter Johan Schei, 'The World Ocean in Globalisation: Challenges and Responses for the Antropocene Epoch'. In Davor Vidas and Peter Johan Schei (eds), The World Ocean in Globalisation. Leiden/Boston, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers/Brill, 2011, pp. 3-15.

Conference presentations

Vidas, Davor, 'Climate Change, Sea Level Rise and International Law in the Anthropocene'. Presentation at the international conference Ocean Law and Policy: Twenty Years of Development Under the UNCLOS Regime, University of California Berkeley, Law of the Sea Institute and the Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology, held in Madrid, Spain, 18-21.09.2014.

Vidas, Davor 'The Anthropocene and International Law: Challenges of Sea-level Rise for the 21st Century'. Presentation at the international conference: Contingent Movements Symposium, Maldives Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, 29.09.2013.

Vidas, Davor, 'The Anthropocene - and International Law of the Holocene'. Presentation at the international conference: AGU Fall Meeting 2012, session on 'The Anthropocene: Confronting the Prospects of a +4 C World'. San Francisco, USA, 03-07.12.2012.

Davor Vidas, 'The Law of the Sea for an Anthropocene Epoch?'. Presentation at the international conference: Rule of Law for Nature: Basic Issues and New Development in Environmental Law, University of Oslo Faculty of Law, Oslo, 10.05.2012.

Davor Vidas, 'The Anthropocene and the law of the oceans'. Presentation at the conference The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?, The Geological Society, London, 11.05.2011.

Popular science and feature articles

Zalasiewicz, Jan, Colin N. Waters et al (incl. Davor Vidas), 'Disputed start dates for Anthropocene', Nature, Vol 520, 23.04.2015.

'Vi som beveger verda' ('We Who Move the World'), Forskerforum, No 3, 04.03.2013. In Norwegian.

'Generation Anthropocene 50th podcast', Generation Anthropocene, 26.02.2013.

Zalasiewicz, Jan, Alejandro Cearreta, Paul Crutzen, Erle Ellis, Michael Ellis, Jacques Grinevald, John McNeill, Clément Poirier, Simon Price, Dan Richter, Mary Scholes, Will Steffen, Davor Vidas, Colin Waters, Mark Williams and Alexander P. Wolfe, 'Response to Autin and Holbrook on “Is the Anthropocene an issue of stratigraphy or pop culture?”', GSA Today, October 2012, pp. e21-e22.

Vidas, Davor (interview), 'Odvjetnik Plavog planeta' ('An Attorney of the Blue Planet'), More, No 190, February 2011. In Croatian.
 Related focal points of research:

   Law of the Sea and marine affairs
   Global environmental governance and law
   Biodiversity and genetic resources

Project funding:

   Research Council of Norway, JUSISP-2 Programme

 Recent relevant FNI News

Scientists: Yes, the anthropocene is real (30.08.2016)

The Anthropocene Working Group meeting at FNI (25.04.2016)

FNI Research Professor Chairs ILA International Committee on Sea-level Rise (30.11.2012)

New Major FNI Book on the World Ocean in Globalisation (29.08.2011)

International Law for an Anthropocene Epoch (10.06.2011)

In the media:

'The Anthropocene: Hard evidence for a human-driven Earth', ScienceDaily, 07.01.2016.

'Notes from Madrid: Sea-Level rise and shifting baselines', Global Challenges - University of Wollongong, 20.01.2015.

'Gärtner für die Erde gesucht' ('Gardener for the Earth wanted'), Stuttgarter Zeitung, 19.01.2015. In German.

'Dawn of the ANTHROPOCENE era: New geological epoch began with testing of the atomic bomb, experts claim', Daily Mail, 16.01.2015.

'First atomic blast proposed as start of Anthropocene', Nature, 16.01.2015.

'Anthropocene era: Humans changed the Earth's geology by setting off atomic bombs in 1945 ', International Business Times, 16.01.2015

'Earth entered new epoch on July 16 1945, say scientists', The Telegraph, 15.01.2015.

'Did the Anthropocene begin with the nuclear age?', Science Daily, 15.01.2015

'I dag starter diskusjonene som skal bestemme om vi har endret hele jordas økosystem' ('Discussions Start Today to Decide Whether We Have Changed the Earth's Entire Ecosystem'), Dagbladet, 17.10.2014.

'Anthropocene: is this the new epoch of humans?', The Guardian, 16.10.2014.

'Anthropocene: We might be about to move from the Holocene to a new epoch', The Independent, 16.10.2014.

'Contingent Movements Symposium – Maldives Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale', Alcramer, 28.09.2013.

'Venezia: Contingent Movement Symposium', Il Popolo Veneto, 27.09.2013. In Italian.

'Contingent Movements Symposium at the Maldives Pavilion, Venice - 28th & 29th September', E-ArtNow, 19.09.2013.

'A "Planetary Boundaries" Straw-Man', Resilience Science, 08.04.2013.

'Are humans really the planet’s top dogs? Geologists will make the final call', grist, 05.03.2013.

'Masters of the Anthropocene Boundary', Generation Anthropocene, 26.02.2013.

'Scientists Debate Whether the Anthropocene Should Be a New Geological Epoch', Eos, Vol 94, No 4, 22.01.2013, pp. 41-42.

'Davor Vidas predsjeda novim odborom International Law Association' ('Davor Vidas Chairs a New International Committee of the International Law Association'),, 26.11.2012. In Croatian.

'Palaeontological Association sponsored session at the AGU Fall Meeting on the Anthropocene', The Palaeontology Newsletter, No 81, November 2012, p. 13.

'Valencija: zavrsena trodnevna konferencija ESIL-a' ('Valencia: Three-day Conference of the European Society of International Law Concluded'), IUS Info, 19.09.2012. In Croatian.

'Antropocen - nova epoha geoloske povijesti Zemlje' ('The Anthropocene - A New Geological Epoch in the History of the Earth'), UrbanCult, 11.05.2011. In Croatian.

'The Anthropocene - A New Epoch of Geological Time?', Alpha Galileo, 11.05.2011.

'Novo poglavlje: Antropocen - nova epoha geoloske povijesti Zemlje?' ('A New Chapter: The Anthropocene - a new geological epoch in Earth's history?'), Metro, 11.05.2011. In Croatian.

'The Anthropocene - A New Epoch of Geological Time?', Climate Action, 11.05.2011.

'11 May - The Anthropocene, a new epoch of geological time?', Geology in the West Country, 29.04.2011.

'Buducnost prava mora: Studija hrvatskog znanstvenika objavljena u uglednom casopisu' ('Future of the Law of the Sea: A Study by Croatian Scholar Published in a Renowned Journal'), Metro, 31.01.2011. In Croatian.

'Inventura mora za treci milenij' ('Inventory of the Sea for the Third Millennium'), TV-Profil, 21.01.2011. In Croatian.

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