"Our Common Home as a Legal Construct based on Science"


The Fundamental Concept

The Planet

The Hardware

Tangible physical space, where the territorial division is possible (Sovereignties)


The System

The Software

Functional and intangible space, with no specific territorial character and where any type of division is impossible (SOS - Safe Operating Space)

J. Grobowsky / NASA GSFC

Over the long course of history of our planet, the geosphere and biosphere have co-evolved as a single, complex system to generate many different conditions on the surface of the Earth. This co-evolution of the Earth System, with significant variations in the chemical composition and circulation patterns of the atmosphere and oceans as well as the temperature at the Earth’s surface, has given rise to different states of the Earth System. Reading this long history has allowed us to understand the truly unique situation that has characterized the current state: a period of climatic stability in the last 11,700 years, a time interval we call the HOLOCENE. Only during the Holocene has humankind developed agriculture, villages and cities, and the complex civilisation that we enjoy today. But human activities have now become so pervasive and profound that they are destabilising the Holocene state of the Earth System.

It has been long said that one cannot manage what cannot be measured. But the situation is perhaps even more complicated: all the benefits from, or damage to, the Earth System are currently non-existent from a legal viewpoint. So, how can we manage and protect something – the favourable state of the Earth System – that is intangible and not legally defined? We must recognize that the current International legal system is not properly equipped to address the threats that human activities are posing to this favourable state of the Earth System. And we need to act upon that. Science has called this favourable biogeophysical state of the Earth System the “Safe Operating Space” for humankind. This “safe space” is defined as a characteristic of the Earth System as a whole and has no specific territorial character: specifically, it refers to a Holocene-like state of the System. In this sense Our Common Home is a specific favourable state of the Earth System. It’s an intangible “home”, delimited by the so-called “Planetary Boundaries”. Only by differentiating the physical planet, where sovereignties can be defined, from the Earth System and its favourable state can we consider this “non-geographic space” as our truly “Common Home”. If we recognize the favourable state of the Earth System as new object of Law, which exists simultaneously inside and outside all sovereignties, it becomes possible to imagine alternative ways to manage our use of the Earth System. The purpose of recognizing the favourable state of the Earth System as a new Common Intangible Natural Heritage of Humankind is to restore and maintain, in the long term, a Holocene-like state of the Earth System, without overriding the constituent elements of sovereignty.

What is Our Common Home?

The book

SOS Treaty - The Safe Operating Space Treaty

A New Approach to Managing Our Use of the Earth System

Professor Antonio Herman Benjamin
Justice of the National High Court of Brazil (STJ) and Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law
“For humanity to live safely within planetary boundaries, law has a crucial role to play. At present, international law is too fragmented and state-focused. This impressive book brings some of the leading scholars of Earth system science, law and governance together and shows how law, and international law in particular, should be advanced to meet one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Mark Stafford Smith
Chair of Future Earth Science Committee
"The idea of a global Safe Operating Space Treaty is an innovative way of conceptualising legal recognition of what is an easy intuition - that all humanity depends upon maintaining our collective planetary life support system, so that mechanisms are needed to make this rather intangible goal visible to our legal systems. The potential to extend accepted international legal concepts of world heritage and the common heritage of humanity offers a transformational pathway based on the close collaboration between earth system scientists and legal scholars. As such it is living out the intent of the global research platform Future Earth - to help develop more nimble pathways towards global sustainability and human well-being. We need multiple approaches to this challenge of transformation, and this book provides a thought provoking example of one of them."

Orfeu Bertolami
Chairman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto
“This book provides a robust body of evidence, both legal and scientific, that the creation of a legal system for the Earth System is absolutely necessary and unavoidable. Five hundred years after the publication of Utopia by Thomas More , this book gives us reasons to hope that the construction of a universal legal framework to address the problems facing humankind is within reach.”

Book Description

It is clear that international law is not yet equipped to handle the “ecological goods and services” that exist simultaneously within and outside of all states. The global commons have always been understood as geographical spaces that exist only outside the political borders of states. A vital good such as a stable climate exists both within and outside all states, and shows traditional legal approaches to be ecological nonsense. With the recent possibility of measuring and monitoring the state and functioning of the Earth System through the Planetary Boundaries framework, it is now possible to define a “Safe Operating Space of Humankind” corresponding to a biogeophysical state of Earth.

In this sense, the Common Home of Humanity is not a planet with 510 million square kilometres, but is a specific favourable state of the Earth System. Recent major scientific advances anticipate a legal paradigm shift that could overcome the disconnection between ecological realities and existing legal frameworks. If we recognize this qualitative and non-geographic space as a Common Natural Intangible Heritage of Humankind, all positive and negative “externalities” end up being included within a new maintenance system of the Common Home.

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