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Planetary boundaries at the intersection of Earth system law, science and governance: A state‐of‐the‐art review

Kim, R.E. and Kotzé, L.J. (2020), Planetary boundaries at the intersection of Earth system law, science and governance: A state‐of‐the‐art review. RECIEL.


First developed in Earth system science, the idea of planetary boundaries has gradually spilled over into social science research in the past decade. An interdisciplinary body of literature has emerged as a result at the intersection of Earth system science, law and governance. In this article, we provide a bird’s eye view of the state of the art, and examine how social scientists frame the planetary boundaries framework and what they identify as key regulatory challenges and implications. To that end, we conducted a systematic review of 80 peer‐reviewed articles identified through a keyword search. Our survey finds that social scientists have approached the planetary boundaries framework using four key problem framings, which revolve around the notion of planetary boundaries as embodying a set of interdependent and politically constructed environmental limits that are global in scale. We also identify four key clusters of governance solutions offered in the literature, which broadly relate to the ideas of institutionalizing, coordinating, downscaling and democratizing planetary boundaries. We then apply the foregoing insights to the legal domain and explore their implications for law. More specifically, we discuss how the recently proposed notion of Earth system law is related to these emerging problem framings and how it might contribute to these responses.

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