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Protect pivotal climate elements as planetary common goods

Protect pivotal climate elements as planetary common goods

A healthy Greenland ice sheet, tropical rainforests and permafrost in cold regions are essential to the Earth's habitability. Therefore, it should be legally protected as a “planetary common good” and managed supra-regionally, explains an international team of experts with Austrian participation. This would enable “earth system functions” that are essential for effective climate protection. The study was published in the scientific journal PNAS.

Currently, there are legally established “global commons” such as the high seas, outer space, Antarctica, and the Earth’s atmosphere. They lie outside sovereign claims, meaning no country can get rid of them. “All states and peoples have a common interest in protecting and managing it effectively for the benefit of all,” law, policy and land scholars led by Johan Rockström of the University of Potsdam (Germany) explained in a press release. This should also apply to “vital biophysical systems that regulate resilience, condition and thus the quality of life on Earth,” according to the experts.

They wrote that changes in “elements of the Earth system” such as the Amazon rainforest, ice sheets, Greenland glaciers, permafrost, monsoons, and ocean currents in the North Atlantic affect people around the world. “They should be viewed as a planetary commons entrusted to the world and thus requiring shared and coordinated control,” Rockström said.

“The Earth’s vital regulatory systems are now under pressure from human activities to an unprecedented extent,” explained the researchers, who also include Nebojsa Naksinovic from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg (Lower Austria) and Vienna. “Our current global environmental law is not sufficient to ensure that planetary boundaries are not exceeded,” the University of Technology heard. Therefore, there is “an urgent need for planetary commons as a new legal and governance approach that can more effectively protect vital Earth system functions,” they say.

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