Seeking ‘systems’ in Earth System Law: Boundaries, identity, and purpose in an emergent field

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This paper interrogates the vision and purpose of the nascent and developing field of ‘Earth System Law’ (ESL) with a view to asking how best to describe what ESL is and how it can contribute to scholarship on law in the ‘Anthropocene.’ Drawing on Luhmann’s autopoetic systems theory of law and complex adaptive systems theory, the paper reflects on ESL’s identity, boundaries, and role as a scholarly movement and seeks to draw out both the prospects and limits of its transformational purposes. Such questions are seen as inescapably tied to pragmatic considerations of how law and legal systems change, meaning that ESL would be best served if its scholars embraced a kind of ‘translating’ role to facilitate linkages between law and other domains in search of ways for earth systems considerations to be made relevant to law, rather than becoming vanguards of a normative legal revolution for the Anthropocene.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth System Governance
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Earth system governance
  • Earth System Law
  • Luhmann, Niklas
  • Anthropocene
  • Environmental law


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