Environmental Sustainability and Global Health Law: The Case Study of Globalizing Artifical Photosynthesis




Wasson, Anton
Crow, Kim
Faunce, Thomas

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Oxford University Press


The reality of anthropogenic climate change and its adverse global health and environmental impacts, biodiversity loss, pollution, and interference with the bio-chemical boundaries for safe occupation of the planet, highlight the importance of considering global human health and its governance in close connection with that of our biosphere. Yet jurisprudence related to global health remains fundamentally anthropocentric. Distributive justice and respect for human dignity, for example, are central to academic and policy debates over normative responses to climate change yet have a primary focus on the interests, responsibilities, and rights of human beings. The hypothesis explored here is that the normative basis of global health law, particularly as a result of the pressures first mentioned, is undergoing a shift in which environmental sustainability is granted equivalent status with distributive justice as a foundational social virtue. The increasing consideration being given to the granting of enforceable legal rights to ecosystems (wilderness areas, rivers, forests, valleys, for example) appears to be a manifestation of this normative transition. The case study used here to explore this issue involves the potential global utilization of artificial photosynthesis technology in all human structures (roads, buildings, vehicles, for example). Large national research projects are now focused on utilizing a variety of approaches, including nanotechnology, to not only replicate but also improve upon the process of photosynthesis (in very basic and simplified terms the creation of hydrogen fuels and food using sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide). This new technology could have significant health impacts globally—not only adding atmospheric oxygen but reducing morbidity and mortality from lack of safe, accessible energy for heating, cooking, and transport, providing locally sourced hydrogen fuel and water (burning hydrogen produces a relatively small amount of fresh water), starch-based food and greenhouse gas mitigation (from atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction), as well as fertilizer (by fixing atmospheric nitrogen as ammonia). Our hypothesis is that the global roll-out of such ‘green’ technology is likely to be facilitated if governed by principles and instruments arising from a more non-anthropocentric, environmental sustainability-focused global health law. As will be explained, this may have health law reform implications ranging from domestic legal patent regimes to World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, bilateral, regional, and international trade and investment agreements, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and a host of international conventions and declarations concerning climate change, the right to enjoy the benefits of science and its applications, the right to health and the concept of the common heritage of humanity.



global health law, environmental sustainability, ecosystem, rights




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Law and Global Health

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