Abstract and Keywords
International environmental law has two overarching and related objectives: the prevention of pollution and health risks from the uncontrolled application of modern technology and science that cross national borders or degrade global commons; and the protection of representative natural systems or areas of ‘nature’ which are deemed to be of global significance from the adverse impacts of human modification. The scientific construct ‘ecosystem’ has profoundly influenced the development of domestic and international ‘nature’ protection programmes, from the reduction of greenhouse gases to biodiversity conservation. Ecosystem conservation is a central objective of the widely accepted international norm that all countries should exploit and use their natural resources in an environmentally sustainable manner. There are overlapping, historical, conceptual, and institutional reasons for the amorphous and ultimately marginal legal status of ecosystems in international law. This article explores the powerful but uncertain status of ecosystems in international law, the stability hypothesis of ecosystems, adaptive management as a new legal paradigm for ecosystem conservation, ecosystems and commons beyond state jurisdiction, and stewardship sovereignty.
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