Interview: international law still does not fully consider ecosystem integrity

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Research Office of the Graduate Institute of Geneva about the findings of my PhD dissertation, titled Protecting Ecosystem Integrity in the Age of Planetary Boundaries: Science, International Environmental Law, and the Ecosystem Approach.

In the interview, I explain the core argument of my doctoral project, namely that international environmental law does not fully incorporate the massive advances in our understanding of ecosystems that have characterised the recent evolution of environmental sciences and technologies. In particular, I argue that multilateral agreements in areas such as fisheries management, freshwater, and biodiversity still largely fail to grasp the importance of maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, that is, their capacity to provide the goods and services upon which humanity depends:

“While environmental treaties […] have indeed adopted more integrated regulatory techniques [to govern ecosystems], they have mainly done so through “procedural” provisions which only prescribe States a certain conduct […]. By contrast, these agreements have so far failed to introduce “substantive” obligations requiring countries to protect the integrity of their ecosystems vis-à-vis the international community.”

The interview, which notes the relevance of the thesis findings for the ongoing negotiations on the post-2020 framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, further reflects on the role that States’ sovereign rights over their biological resources play in undermining the adoption of stronger international rules for the protection of ecosystems:

“Understandably, there have been important historical reasons that explain why this principle remains so relevant […]. However, the fact remains that the integrity of the entire biosphere may be at risk if states continue to destroy ecosystems at the current pace. This means that there should, at the very least, be a significant political push towards stronger compliance mechanisms in environmental treaties and greater cooperation in the regulation of ecosystems, including through forms of joint management and knowledge and technology transfer.”

The full interview is available here. For the members of the Graduate Institute’s community, the PhD manuscript is available in open access through that link.

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