23/01/2024NewsEarth Commission News, Publications

Scientists propose new approach to “global commons” as a tool for safeguarding critical Earth system functions 

Tipping elements of the Earth system should be considered global commons, researchers argue in a new paper published in the renowned journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The new publication is the result of an almost two year-long research process involving 22 leading international researchers. It supports and strengthens the argument that the global commons framework is the closest example we have today of an approach with the aim of governing some biophysical systems on Earth upon which the entire world collectively depends.

In the paper, legal, political and Earth system scientists make their case building on the well-known idea of the global commons, but significantly expanding it to design more effective legal responses to better govern biophysical systems that regulate planetary resilience beyond and across national boundaries, such as natural carbon sinks and the major forest systems.

The authors argue that the global commons framework must now evolve in the light of new Anthropocene dynamics, and propose “the planetary commons” concept. This concept expands the idea of the (currently relatively narrow legal definition) global commons by adding not only globally shared geographic regions to the global commons framework, but also critical biophysical systems that regulate the resilience and state, and therefore livability, of Earth. 

This broader definition is aligned with the concept that the commons are critical to supporting life on Earth and that we all thereby depend on them – irrespective of where we live; a concept championed by the Global Commons Alliance and many other groups. The Earth Commission has defined safe and just Earth system boundaries for these global – or planetary – commons. Whilst the paper is not an Earth Commission output, Prof. Johan Rockström and Prof. Joyeeta Gupta, Prof. Tim Lenton and Prof. Ricarda Winkelmann contributed to the effort. 

  • Read more on the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research website here.
  • Read the academic article here.

Proposed categories of planetary commons.

© Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 121