Towards an integrative Earth-Space governance paradigm

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


There has been an exponential growth in Space activities across the world since the last decade, due to technological revolution and increasing commercialization of the sector. This phenomenon can be understood as what policymakers, practitioners, and scholars call the ‘New Space’ - an era in which states progressively privatize the Space sector to foster more bottom-up innovations. Interestingly, most of these Space activities have been promoted as bringing new solutions to sustainability challenges on Earth. Asteroid mining has been portrayed as an alternative to terrestrial mining, Mars as a future habitat for humankind, and satellites as supporting the Sustainable Development Goals through monitoring. However, at the same time, the world is already witnessing new environmental and societal challenges emanating from New Space. The progressive development of the satellite sector has, for example, increasingly congested the orbit with Space debris.

We argue that there are increasing interdependencies or trade-offs between Earth- and Space sustainability, which the current global environmental governance regime is insufficiently equipped to deal with. In particular, we observe increasing disintegration between Earth governance and Space governance through their institutional developments on two parallel paths. On one hand, the majority of formal institutions in place have been focusing on Earth governance, such as limiting the negative effects from Space activities to developments on Earth by preventing sovereignty claims in Space and by emphasizing that Space activities will bring benefits for humankind as a whole. On the other hand, intensified geopolitical interests and market competition as a result of New Space have prompted spacefaring actors to shape their own institutions in Space to legitimize their colonization activities on other celestial bodies such as the Moon, Mars, and asteroids.

This article will elaborate on the increasing trade-offs between Earth- and Space sustainability, and the extant institutions aiming to address these trade-offs in isolation by focusing only on Earth- or Space governance. We will propose an integrative Earth-Space governance paradigm, which considers Space as neither a dumping ground for human waste nor as a supply of infinite resources to meet Earth’s demand. Addressing Earth-Space sustainability trade-offs requires not just Space governance but also environmental governance or more specifically earth system governance. We will discuss the potential governance architecture of the new paradigm and provide concrete policy suggestions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
Event2022 Toronto Conference on Earth System Governance: Governing accelerated transitions: justice, creativity, and power in a transforming world - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 20 Oct 202224 Oct 2022


Conference2022 Toronto Conference on Earth System Governance


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