Managing the Fragmentation of International Environmental Law: Forests at the Intersection of the Climate and Biodiversity Regimes

49 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2010 Last revised: 26 Feb 2014

See all articles by Harro van Asselt

Harro van Asselt

Stockholm Environment Institute; University of Eastern Finland

Date Written: February 7, 2011


The extensive debate on the fragmentation of international law has only paid cursory attention to its manifestation within the area of international environmental law, even though this field has spawned a great number of international legal instruments. Against that background, this Article assesses strategies to manage the overlap between two legal regimes dealing with the interconnected global environmental threats of biodiversity loss and climate change. Although the climate and biodiversity treaties are not fundamentally in discord, there is potential for conflict between the regimes, particularly following decisions on forest carbon sinks in the Kyoto Protocol, while at the same time there are synergies to be exploited by tackling deforestation. The Article reviews the techniques offered by international law for mitigating conflicts, including conflict avoidance and resolution techniques. This is followed by an appraisal of institutional cooperation between the regimes. The Article shows that the usefulness of legal techniques for resolving conflicts is limited given two characteristics of international environmental law, namely the overlap in objectives, and the role of treaty body decisions. Furthermore, it argues that institutional cooperation has not yet managed to adequately accommodate biodiversity considerations in the climate regime due to different memberships and restricted mandates. Therefore, autonomous action aimed at enhancing synergies between the two regimes seems the most fruitful in the immediate future, although this does not address the regimes’ long-term relationship. The Article concludes that further inquiry into different strategies for managing the fragmentation of international environmental law is warranted.

Keywords: CBD, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Fragmentation of International Law, Interplay, Kyoto Protocol, UNFCCC

Suggested Citation

van Asselt, Harro, Managing the Fragmentation of International Environmental Law: Forests at the Intersection of the Climate and Biodiversity Regimes (February 7, 2011). New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), 44(4), 1205-1278. Available at SSRN:

Harro Van Asselt (Contact Author)

Stockholm Environment Institute ( email )

United Kingdom

University of Eastern Finland ( email )

PO Box 111
Joensuu, 80100

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