Beate Sjafjell (University of Oslo), 12 Jan. 2017:

The role of law in integrating planetary boundaries into the circular economy

From the UN Sustainable Development Goals via the Circular Economy and to the sustainability language of business and investors everywhere, we see that there is a lot of emphasis on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Yet we are far from achieving the sustainable goals. This presentation will concentrate on the environmental dimension of sustainability.  The dire status as regards the convergence of environmental crises facing global society is encapsulated in the concept of 'planetary boundaries', first identified in the ground-breaking article by Rockstrom et al. in 2009, and updated and re-affirmed by Steffen et al. in 2015.  According to Steffen et al., human production and consumption is placing us in increasing or high risk in relation to at least four of the boundaries. The grand challenge of sustainability lies in securing the social foundation for humanity now and in the future while staying within these planetary boundaries.  Professor Beate Sjafjell will speak on the role of the law in meeting this grand challenge, and specifically on integrating the concept and understanding of planetary boundaries into the EU's idea of a Circular Economy.  Law is arguably the most powerful tool for society to implement the social norms that society on a high political level agrees on, and we find high-level legal support for sustainability in international law, EU law and in many national legal regimes.  In the EU sustainability is an overarching objective, and Article of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union requires an integration of environmental protection requirements in all policies and activities of the EU with a view to achieving this objective.  In spite of this and the EU law principle of coherence, EU law - like national legal regimes - is plagued with inconsistencies, incoherences and counterproductive regulation.  The presentation will discuss the weaknesses and limits of law, and suggest options for how law nevertheless can play a decisive role in integrating the understanding of the non-negotiable ecological limits within which a circular economy must be portioned if it is to be sustainable.