Research Agenda

The Earth system perspective has now become the principal scientific framing and contemporary analytical paradigm to describe, understand and respond to the complex interactions between Earth system components and the many human activities that impact Earth as an integrated, fragile entity. The evolution of the Earth system perspective has occurred as a response to the scientific and regulatory deficiencies resulting from a linear, one dimensional and segmented approach to understanding and responding to discreet, unrelated, localised “environmental” problems that are seen to only occur in specific and disconnected geographic locations.

In stark contrast to this reductionist approach to ensuring global sustainability, the significantly more all-embracing Earth system perspective instead shifts its holistic focus to the planetary scale. In doing so, it extends sustainability science’s enquiry into new areas seeking to understand complex and dynamic human and non-human relationships, complex self-organising systems, irreversible impacts of interacting stresses, multiple scales of organization, and the various actors and their agendas that influence Earth system change.

The regulatory and scientific implications of the Anthropocene’s Earth system perspective for our social regulatory institutions are profound, and they will pose significant challenges for law specifically. But law, lawyers and legal science have not yet embraced the Earth system perspective. The main objective of this research agenda is to develop a new juridical paradigm better fit for purpose in the Anthropocene. This new paradigm is called Earth system law. In essence, Earth system law must better respond to the type of planetary system challenges that the Anthropocene’s fragile Earth system vividly explicates. It also serves as a new crosscutting global theme of enquiry for law and sustainability scholars.

Some of the research questions that the Earth system law research agenda will endeavour to answer include:

  • What does the Earth system perspective entail?
  • Why is it important for law to orientate towards an Earth system perspective?
  • What role does law have to play in governing Earth system components in pursuit of global sustainability?
  • What are the links between Earth system governance and law?
  • What are the gaps in law that weaken its ability to make a meaningful contribution to Earth system governance for global sustainability?
  • What are the regulatory and scientific implications of the Earth system perspective for law?
  • What is Earth system law and how could it serve as the new juridical paradigm for the Anthropocene?