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Task Force on Earth System Law

The Task Force on Earth System Law is composed of a large member network worldwide, which accommodates an interdisciplinary community of scientists focusing on the legal challenges of the Anthropocene and the many complex, multi-scalar governance challenges arising from within an Earth System context.

In light of the potential far-reaching epistemological, ontological, ethical and normative implications of the Anthropocene, the Task Force on Earth System Law searches for fresh, radical and innovative legal responses to govern planetary transformations. The work of the Task Force is centered on the recent idea of earth system law, which is an innovative legal imaginary that is rooted in the Anthropocene’s planetary context and its perceived socio-ecological crisis. Earth system law is aligned with, and responsive to, the Earth System’s functional, spatial and temporal complexities; and the multiple earth system science and social science-based governance challenges arising from a no-analogue state in which the Earth System currently operates. Earth system law seeks to respond to the Earth System’s instability and unpredictability, and the impacts of these on the entire living order,  through a continuous norm development process that drives meaningful transformations as well as intra-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary learning and deliberation.

Fully embracing the need to guide the making of desirable planetary futures, earth system law potentially offers: an intra-, inter- and trans-disciplinary analytical framework to better understand and respond to the legal dimensions of earth system governance; the normative foundations to govern the full spectrum of Earth System relationships in a way that promotes planetary integrity and justice in their fullest sense; and the legal means to facilitate transformative earth system governance for long-term sustainability.

The Task Force invites both theoretical and empirical research related to earth system law. Key themes are organised around three central perspectives:

  1. Analytical Perspectives on Earth System Law

The analytical perspective focuses on understanding what earth system law is, and invites studies exploring the ontologies and nature of the law, how law can deal with the complex-adaptive nature of the Earth System, and how earth system law fits in the context of the Anthropocene.

  1. Normative Perspectives on Earth System Law

The normative perspective relates to the role of the law in shaping and guiding human behaviour to better navigating the Anthropocene, and to better regulate the way humanity interacts with the Earth System. This perspective invites studies exploring the legal dimensions of cross-level and cross-scale injustices, inequalities, and pervasive hierarchies between and among all the constitutive elements of the Earth System, as well as the legal implications for protecting the Earth’s relatively stable Holocene-like state.

  1. Transformative Perpsectives on Earth System Law

The transformative perspective focuses on the potential pathways that need to be developed for moving towards earth system law. This includes, among others, exploring adaptive legal systems, non-binding goals, and critical elements such as compliance and enforcement, transparency and public participation, that are key to re-orientate law around an Earth System perspective.

Activities and Events

Upcoming events

  • Virtual mid-year workshop of the Earth System Law Task Force (early 2022, more information to come)

Previous events and activities

  • 10 September 2021: Annual Task Force Meeting at the 2021 Bratislava Conference on Earth System Governance. Report here.
  • Two panels on Earth System Law (“Transformation and law futures” and “Earth system law and global governance”) during the 2021 Bratislava Conference on Earth System Governance, Bratislava, Slovakia, 8-9 September 2021.
  • Virtual workshops of the Earth System Law Task Force, 17 March 2021 (Asia-Pacific workshop, and Europe-America workshop).
  • ESG Speaker Series on Earth System Law,4 February 2021, watch here.
  • Annual Task Force Meeting at the 2020 Virtual Forum on Earth System Governance, 18 September 2020. Report here.
  • Annual Task Force Meeting at the 2019 Mexico Conference on Earth System Governance, Oaxaca, Mexico, 9 November 2019.
  • Annual Task Force Meeting at the 2018 Utrecht Conference on Earth System Governance, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 8 November 2018. Report here.
  • First workshop of the Task Force on Earth System Law at the 2017 Lund Conference on Earth System Governance, Lund, Sweden, 11 October 2017.

Scientific co-conveners

Louis J. Kotzé, North-West University, South Africa (Louis.Kotze@nwu.ac.za)

Rakhyun E. Kim, Utrecht University, The Netherlands (r.kim@uu.nl)

Catherine Blanchard, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Utrecht University, The Netherlands (c.blanchard@uu.nl)

Scientific Steering Group

• Mike Angstadt, Colorado College
• Harro van Asselt, University of Eastern Finland
• Emille Boulot, McGill University
• Tracy-Lynn Field, University of the Witwatersrand
• Josh Gellers, University of North Florida
• Michelle Lim, Maquarie University
• Michelle Scobie, University of the West Indies
• Prue Taylor, University of Auckland

Task Force members

List of members


Key publications focusing on Earth System Law (in alphabetical order)

Cadman, T., Hurlbert, M., Simonelli, A. (Eds). Forthcoming 2021. Earth system law: Standing of the precipice of the Anthropocene. Routledge, Abingdon.

Cardesa-Salzmann, A., Cocciolo, E. 2019. Global Governance, Sustainability and the Earth System: Critical Reflections on the Role of Global Law. Transnational Environmental Law 8(3), 437-461.

Cocciolo, E. 2019. Capitalocene, Thermocene and the Earth system: Global law and connectivity in the Anthropocene age. In: Jaria-Manzano, J., Hunter, S., Borràs, S. (Eds), Research Handbook on Global Climate Constitutionalism. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 277-301.

Du Toit, L., Lopez Porras, G., Kotzé LJ. 2021. Guiding Environmental Law’s Transformation into Earth System Law Through the Telecoupling Framework. European Energy and Environmental Law Review 30(3), 104-113.

Gellers, J. 2021. Earth system law and the legal status of non-humans in the Anthropocene. Earth System Governance 7, 100083.

Kim, R.E. 2021. Taming Gaia 2.0: Earth system law in the ruptured Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Review, 1-14

Kim, R.E. and Kotzé, L.J. 2021. Planetary boundaries at the intersection of Earth system law, science and governance: A state-of-the-art review. Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law 30, 3-15.

Kotzé, L.J. 2020. Earth system law for the Anthropocene: rethinking environmental law alongside the Earth system metaphor. Transnational Legal Theory 11(1-2), 75-104.

Kotzé, L.J. 2019. Earth System Law for the Anthropocene. Sustainability 11(23), 6796.

Kotzé, L.J., Kim, R.E., 2019. Earth system law: The juridical dimensions of earth system governance. Earth System Governance 1, 100003.

Kotze, L.J. 2021. Cities, the Anthropocene and Earth System Law. In: Philipp Aust, H., Nijman, J.E. (Eds), Research Handbook on International Law and Cities. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 354-367.

Kotzé, L.J., Kim, R.E. 2020. Exploring the Analytical, Normative and Transformative Dimensions of Earth System Law. Environmental Policy and Law 50(6), 457-470.

Lopez Porras, G. 2021. Dryland Degradation and Expansion: Implications for Mexican Policies from the Earth System Perspective. Environmental Policy and Law 51(3), 197-200.

Mai, L., Boulot, E. 2021. Harnessing the transformative potential of Earth System Law: From theory to practice. Earth System Governance 7, 100103.

The special issue on earth system law in the Earth System Governance journal (forthcoming, 2021).