Law, Environment, and the Global Commons: Ice, Sea, Space and Beyond

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law, Gender and Media

Module overview

This course focuses on global commons, in other words all the resources that are beyond state sovereignty either because they do not fall under their jurisdiction or because they have not been appropriated for legal or other reasons.

Certain global commons like the high seas have been the object of significant attention for decades and innovative legal regimes have arisen, for instance, concerning deep seabed mineral resources governed by the principle of common heritage of humankind. Other global commons such as the global atmosphere and the global water cycle are recognised as issues of global importance but suffer from incomplete or insufficient regulation.

In the case of outer space, the existing legal regime is premised on a principle of non-appropriation but rapid changes are visible in the context of new opportunities for natural resource exploitation, while at the same time the negative environmental consequences of outer space use are becoming increasingly visible.

This course course addresses some of the main global commons that are recognised and regulated, explores issues concerning global commons whose regulation is lacking and reflects on the consequences of appropriation, as happened in the case of seeds that were recognised as a common heritage of humankind until the 1980s.

This course is open to all Postgraduate Taught Students at SOAS

Objectives and learning outcomes

  • develop a critical understanding of the concept of the global commons in law and the ways in which it has been implemented and has evolved over time
  • understand the key principles, actors and institutions relevant to the regulation of global commons
  • understand global commons in terms of the broader environment and development dimensions


  • Weekly 2-hour seminar

Method of assessment

  • Policy brief/book review: 30% (1000 words)
  • Essay: 70% (2500 words)

Suggested reading

  • Klaus Bosselmann, Earth Governance – Trusteeship of the Global Commons (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015)
  • Frans von der Dunk with Fabio Tronchetti eds, Handbook of Space Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015)
  • Alex G. Oude Elferink and Erik J. Molenaar eds, The International Legal Regime of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction – Current and Future Developments (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2010)
  • Michael Halewood, Isabel López Noriega & Selim Louafi eds, Crop Genetic Resources as a Global Commons – Challenges in International Law and Governance (London: Routledge/Earthscan, 2013)
  • Aline L. Jaeckel, The International Seabed Authority and the Precautionary Principle: Balancing Deep Seabed Mineral Mining and Marine Environmental Protection (Boston: Brill Nijhoff, 2017)
  • Manfred Lachs, The Law of Outer Space – An Experience in Contemporary Law-Making (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2010)
  • Keyuan Zou ed., Global Commons and the Law of the Sea (Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2018)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.