Vivien Wefringhaus, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Circular Economy and International Law

Our earth´s supply of natural resources is depleting while mountains of waste are piling up. Killing two birds with one stone, scientists recommend a transformation from the current linear economic system towards a circular economy. Nevertheless, explicit regulation to implement such an economic model is still missing at the international, regional or even national level. With due regard to the global scope of the increasing depletion of resources and littering the question arises whether relevant rules on these issues can be extracted from existing international law. Since the international community failed to set a clear framework for a resource-saving and efficient economy which takes the urgent threats into account, it is to discover in how far existing international law demands a transition towards a circular economy. This PhD project will examine if an integrated analysis of different fields of international law leads to an implicit obligation for states to adapt their economies. By assessing the related principles and provisions under international environmental law as well as under human rights law it aims to reveal if they imply a mandatory economic shift. The analysis will differentiate between relevant provisions concerning the issue of resource depletion on the one hand, and the current law governing waste management on the other hand. The objective is to determine the connection between these international law rules and the concept of circular economy. This thesis involves the scrutiny of principles like sustainability and common responsibility in this context and takes legal theory as well as ethical aspects into consideration. In a second step, the environmental and social demands will be balanced with the states´ sovereignty in order to determine if an implicit obligation to transform the economy can be detected.