A critique of the Global Pact for the environment: a stillborn initiative or the foundation for Lex Anthropocenae?


In May 2018, the process which may ultimately lead to the negotiation of a legally binding Global Pact for the environment formally commenced under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly. Expectations for the Pact are high, evidenced in particular by its multiple and overlapping objectives: to serve as a generic binding instrument of international environmental law (IEL) principles; to integrate, consolidate, unify and ultimately entrench many of the fragmented principles of IEL; and to constitute the first global environmental human rights instrument. In the wake of the impending intergovernmental process, the paper offers a thorough critique of the draft Pact in its present iteration. We do so with the aim of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the present draft Pact by interrogating: (a) its diplomatic and symbolic relevance and possible unique contribution at the policy level to global environmental law and governance, and (b) its potential at the operational level of IEL and global environmental governance, focusing on the extent to which the draft Pact accommodates both existing and more recent rules and principles for environmental protection. As the Pact’s primary ambition is to become a universally binding global treaty, it would be churlish not to recognise its potential for innovation, as well as the considerable opportunity that the negotiation of the Pact will have to generate broad-sweeping and positive impacts. However, our central thesis is that only if the Global Pact were to incorporate ambitious normative provisions to strengthen those public and private global governance efforts that aim to halt the deterioration of Earth system integrity, as well as to maintain and improve integrity, will it be able to offer a firm foundation of the type of Anthropocene Law, termed here as the Lex Anthropocenae, required to confront head-on the deep socio-ecological crisis of the Anthropocene.

Duncan French, Professor of International Law, University of Lincoln

Louis J. Kotze, North-west University, South Africa and University of Lincoln