The Anthropocene and the International Law of the Sea

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Vol 369, No 1938, 2011, pp. 909-925

The current Law of the Sea provides a framework for various specific issues, but is incapable of responding adequately to the overall challenges facing humankind, now conceivably already living in the Anthropocene. The linkages between the development of the Law of the Sea and the current process towards formal recognition of an Anthropocene Epoch are two-fold. First, there is a linkage of origin. The ideological foundations of the Law of the Sea facilitated the emergence of forces that were to lead to the Industrial Revolution and, eventually, to levels of development entailing ever-greater human impacts on the Earth System. Second, there may be a renewed linkage in interaction. Geological information has prompted key developments in the Law of the Sea since the introduction of the continental shelf concept in the mid-20th century. With the formalisation of the Anthropocene Epoch, geology might again act as a trigger for new developments needed in the Law of the Sea. This article explors those two aspects of linkages and examines prospects for further development of the Law of the Sea framework, through concepts such as the responsibility for the seas, as well as related to new approaches to global sustainability such as the ‘planetary boundaries’.