International Institute of Space Law

Article

Space Mining and Environmental Protection: Recycling International Agreements into New Legal Practices

Authors Gabrielle Leterre
Author's information

Gabrielle Leterre
Doctoral Researcher, Université du Luxembourg, Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance, Luxembourg.
  • Abstract

      The increasing interest in extracting natural resources from celestial bodies raises many issues, among which guaranteeing environmental standards is paramount. There is more than a reasonable concern that industrial exploitation of the outer space lead to similar or even greater disasters than the ones already afflicting Earth. There is a consensus among the legal community that international law does provide environmental protection through the Outer Space Treaty in its Article IX. Because of its generality, however, this provision precludes the agreement from effectively protecting the outer space's environment in the context of specific activities. The present contribution aims to explore appropriate legal responses. One, often proposed, is that such a response should take the form of a new international agreement. Considering the lengthy process of treaty-making, and the reluctance of States to adopt binding international documents limiting their freedom in space, there is a high chance that space mining activities will have started by the time there is any kind of international agreement. Therefore, another approach must be envisaged, which rests with the analysis of existing environmental standards that could be leveraged to answer the challenges of space mining activities. Special attention will be paid to the enforcement of the Outer Space Treaty and how it should be combined with what is usually referred to as “soft laws”. As a conclusion, the contribution attempts to answer the question of the transforming role of States in complementing existing international standards for the protection of the outer space environment.

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