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Inclusion of the topic ‘protection of the atmosphere’ in the current work programme of the UN International Law Commission (ILC) reflects the long overdue recognition of the fact that the scope of contemporary international law for the Earth’s atmosphere extends far beyond the traditional discipline of ‘air law’ as a synonym for airspace and air navigation law. Instead, the atmospheric commons are regulated by a ‘regime complex’ comprising a multitude of economic uses including global communications, pollutant emissions and diffusion, in different geographical sectors and vertical zones, in the face of different categories of risks, and addressed by a wide range of different transnational institutions. Following several earlier attempts at identifying crosscutting legal rules and principles in this field (by, inter alia, the International Law Association, the UN Environment Programme, and the Institut de Droit International), the ILC has now embarked on a new codification/restatement project led by Special Rapporteur Shinya Murase – albeit hamstrung by a highly restrictive ‘understanding’ imposed by the Commission in 2013. This article assesses the prospects and limitations of the initial ILC reports and debates in 2014 and 2015, and potential avenues for progress in the years to come.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

International environmental law, Environmental policy, Atmosphere