The Planetary Commons: A New Paradigm for Safeguarding Earth-regulating Systems in the Anthropocene

Publication Date

January 22, 2024

Page Number


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The Planetary Commons

The paper represents a significant shift in the approach to global environmental governance. Authored by a team of 22 leading international researchers, including Johan Rockström, Louis Kotzé, and Joyeeta Gupta, it calls for expanding the concept of global commons to include not only shared geographic regions but also critical biophysical systems that regulate the Earth’s resilience and state, thereby ensuring its livability.

Key Points of the Paper

  • Planetary Commons Concept: Introduces the “Planetary Commons,” extending beyond traditional global commons to include critical Earth processes and biophysical systems like natural carbon sinks and major forests, essential for planetary stability and resilience.
  • Need for a Paradigm Shift: The authors suggest that current global environmental laws don’t adequately address Anthropocene challenges. They propose the Planetary Commons approach to protect Earth’s critical functions better.
  • Governance and Legal Implications: Seeks to develop global stewardship through Earth system governance to restore planetary resilience and promote justice. Stresses that these obligations should exceed national borders, reflecting collective global responsibility.
  • Addressing Planetary Crisis: Researchers underscore the need for global cooperation to mitigate human-induced stress on Earth’s vital systems. They propose the Planetary Commons framework as a pivotal step to protect the Earth system and secure its stability for future generations.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The publication results from nearly two years of collaborative research among scientists from various disciplines, including law, politics, and Earth system science. This interdisciplinary approach underscores the complexity of the challenges and the necessity of integrating diverse perspectives to develop effective governance solutions.


The State of the Earth System in the Anthropocene

Begins by discussing the Earth system’s complex nature and its significant changes since the onset of the Anthropocene era. Uniquely, the Anthropocene represents a new state of the Earth system characterized by unprecedented human pressures leading to global warming, biodiversity loss, and other ecological disruptions. Consequently, this era marks a departure from the stability of the Holocene period.

Moreover, the document underscores the need to preserve life by keeping Earth’s conditions similar to the Holocene era. It highlights the decline in planetary resilience through the concept of “planetary boundaries,” which denote the limits Earth’s systems must respect to sustain life. Alarmingly, the document warns that the escalating human impact pushes these boundaries, threatening Earth’s self-regulation.

In response, the section proposes a “planetary commons” governance approach to protect vital Earth-regulating systems, expanding beyond traditional global commons. Despite implementation complexities in the Anthropocene era, it emphasizes the need for collective efforts and innovative solutions.

Revisiting the Global Commons

Delves into the concept of the commons, which is particularly relevant in the context of the Anthropocene era. It discusses how the commons framework addresses the challenge of managing shared resources to prevent depletion and ensure the common good. Notably, collective action is emphasized to maintain the commons and protect the group’s interests by relying on these resources.

On a global level, the document defines global commons as areas beyond national jurisdictions that are shared by all states. These areas, such as the high seas, deep seabed, atmosphere, outer space, and Antarctica, are essential for humankind and the planet, which leads to their non-national status in international relations.

However, the section highlights the absence of a unified global commons governance regime, with each global commons area governed by individual treaties. It then discusses the complexities and challenges associated with governing these areas effectively. In particular, it emphasizes the need for collaborative governance at both local and global scales to address the intricate issues surrounding shared resources in the Anthropocene era.

Planetary Commons for the Anthropocene

Underscores the urgent need for a paradigm shift in global governance to address the challenges of the Anthropocene era. It discusses how the current global commons framework, which was crafted during the stable conditions of the Holocene, must adapt and evolve to effectively safeguard critical Earth system regulating functions in the face of new Anthropocene dynamics.

The document proposes a groundbreaking new framework called the “planetary commons.” This idea goes beyond the traditional global commons concept, including globally shared geographic regions and critical biophysical systems. These systems are integral for regulating Earth’s resilience and livability. This shift in perspective aims to secure the core functions of the Earth system, irrespective of national boundaries. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of stewardship and collective action to protect these vital systems.

Lastly, it highlights the urgency of transitioning from the current conceptualization of global commons. This is particularly important due to the harsh realities of the Anthropocene, where rapid planetary risks necessitate a focus on safeguarding Earth’s critical life-support systems. Consequently, it calls for a holistic approach that considers the interconnectedness of Earth’s biophysical systems and the need to prevent breaches of planetary boundaries. Such breaches could lead to irreversible consequences for life on Earth.

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