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To limit risks for human societies and secure critical Earth system functions for future generations a new framework of ‘planetary commons’ should be instituted to guide governance of the planet, researchers have suggested. The concept of ‘global commons’ currently includes only parts of the planet outside of national borders, like the high seas or Antarctica. Instead, all environmental systems that regulate the functioning and state of the planet - namely all systems on Earth we all depend on, irrespective of where in the world we live – should be encompassed by a new ‘planetary commons’ the leading experts in legal, social and Earth system sciences say in a new paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Global commons or global public goods like the high seas and deep seabed, outer space, Antarctica and the atmosphere are shared by all states. They lie outside of jurisdictional boundaries and sovereign entitlements. All states and people have a collective interest that they be protected and governed effectively for the collective good. The idea of ‘planetary commons’ would expand the idea of the global commons by adding not only shared geographic regions to the global commons framework, but also critical biophysical systems that regulate the resilience and state - and therefore livability - on Earth.

Strengthening planetary resilience and promoting justice

The new publication is the result of an almost two year-long research process involving 22 leading international researchers. The researchers argue that the concept of the global commons, should be significantly expanded to allow for more effective governance of the biophysical systems that regulate planetary resilience beyond and across national boundaries, such as natural carbon sinks and the major forest systems.

Copyright: NWO, Studio Oostrum
We believe the idea of “planetary commons” has the potential to create effective stewardship obligations for nations worldwide through Earth system governance aimed at restoring and strengthening planetary resilience and promoting justice; this might affect the sovereignty of states and hence approaches to manage such planetary commons must be undertaken with due consideration of justice principles. UvA professor Joyeeta Gupta, one of the paper’s authors

The consequences of such a planetary shift in global commons governance are potentially profound, the paper’s authors argue. Safeguarding these critical Earth system regulatory functions is a challenge at a unique planetary scale of governance, characterised by the need for collective global-scale solutions that transcend national boundaries. The authors state that the existing global environmental law and governance framework is unable to address the planetary crisis and keep us from crossing planetary boundaries. This is why the planetary commons is urgently needed as a new law and governance approach that can safeguard critical Earth system functions more effectively.

‘The stability and wealth of nations and our civilisation depends on the stability of critical Earth system functions that operate beyond national borders. At the same time, human activities are pushing harder and harder on the boundaries of these pivotal systems. From the Amazon rainforest to the Greenland ice masses, there are rising risks that irreversible and unmanageable shifts in Earth system functioning will be triggered. Since such shifts will affect people around the world, we argue that tipping elements should be considered as planetary commons with which the world is entrusted, and which are consequently in need of collective governance,’ explains co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and professor of Earth System Science at University of Potsdam.

Publication details

Johan Rockström, Louis Kotzé, Joyeeta Gupta, et al : The planetary commons: A new paradigm for safeguarding Earth-regulating systems in the Anthropocene‘. Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceshttps://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2301531121