International law for the Anthropocene? Shifting perspectives in regulation of the oceans, environment and genetic resources

Anthropocene, Vol 9, 2015, pp. 1-13

This article reviews the potential implications of the Anthropocene for the future development of international law in general, and for its distinct fields of the law of the sea, environmental law, and rules governing genetic resources in particular. Stability is deeply embedded in the fundamentals of international law, where it operates on two levels. One is the conscious objective of working towards legally guaranteed stability in international relations, in turn prone to frequent political change. The other level of stability is implied: it is the assumption, based on human experience so far, of the relatively stable circumstances of the late Holocene. The onset of the Anthropocene and the changes introduced in that underlying element of stability entail the potential for an unprecedented type of tension in inter-state relations. This may spill over to and aggravate existing tensions between the territorial integrity of states and territorial claims, coupled with the fact of immense geopolitical differences, on the one hand, and sovereign equality of states as the founding postulate of international law, on the other. The international legal order will always be in search of stability and, ultimately, solutions to facilitate peace and prevent conflict. However, with a fundamental change of the context in which international law operates – and with the challenges increasingly recognized as the consequences of natural, not only political, change – new legal axioms will have to evolve.