Chapter 23: Global governance: Problem shifting in the Anthropocene and the limits of international law
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Is international law capable of facilitating a cross-media approach in natural resource management, and ultimately ensure a net environmental benefit? This chapter attempts to address this question by focusing on the phenomenon of ‘problem shifting’, or more specifically, shifting of environmental problems that may result from or have implications for various practices related to sustainable natural resource management. The chapter clarifies the concept of problem shifting and explores its risks in the Anthropocene. It then examines how the international community has so far responded to the concern. The core of this chapter involves an assessment of the adequacy of international law in dealing with problem shifting through case studies from the field of international environmental law on marine geoengineering and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The analysis shows that the toolbox of international law offers several instruments to address problem shifting, including no-transfer provisions, conflict clauses, and inter-treaty cooperation and coordination. However, the case studies also illustrate that, on the whole, international law is not yet adequately equipped to deal with the risk of planetary-scale environmental problem shifting. This may mean that, in the same way that awareness of transboundary and trans-temporal environmental impacts led to the development of fundamental international legal norms such as no-harm and intergenerational equity, a new principle should be developed to address trans-sectoral transformation of harm.

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