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Socio-ecological resilience and the law: Exploring the adaptive capacity of the BBNJ agreement

Blanchard, Catherine, Carole Durussel, Ben Boteler. 2019. Socio-ecological resilience and the law: Exploring the adaptive capacity of the BBNJ agreement. Marine Policy 118.


In search for sustainability of the oceans, the concept of resilience arises as a necessary perspective from which to analyse what course of action to take. Resilience refers to the capacity of a system to absorb change, but also to adapt and develop in face of those changes. Resilience thinking has recently permeated the sphere of legal studies, and the two fields have been interested in exploring the impact they have on one another. To explore this interaction further in the context of the management of the oceans, the present paper looks at areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) as a socio-ecological system. It argues that the law can be a tool for improving the resilience of a system, but that it must, for that purpose, be able to ensure at least some adaptive capacity. In light of the upcoming, consolidated regime for the sustainable management of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) through the development of an internationally legally binding agreement on the topic, and considering the uncertainty surrounding our knowledge of ABNJ, this paper suggests to look at the BBNJ agreement from the perspective of resilience thinking. The paper explores how this perspective could bring new insights to the development of the BBNJ agreement, as well as the emerging literature linking law and resilience.

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