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International Law Güneş Ünüvar

June - August 2024

Outer Space as an 'Environment': State Regulation and Foreign Investment Protection

My project explores the conceptualization of outer space as an environment, and its implications for international law, particularly concerning environmental protection and foreign investments. The study aims to reconceptualize outer space, especially Earth’s orbit, as an environmental domain subject to regulatory measures similar to those applied to terrestrial and atmospheric environments. The research is motivated by the rapid growth in both public and private space endeavors, which include satellite operations, space tourism, resource extraction and utilization, as well as potential extraterrestrial settlements. With regard to orbital activities, the focus will be on the accumulation of space debris, presenting significant risks such as orbital collisions, which could eventually render Earth’s orbit unusable—a scenario known as the Kessler Syndrome. Given these concerns, the project examines whether space should be classified as an environment requiring protection.
Through environmental sociology, the project will show that while environmental protection is one aspect of our interaction with outer space, environmental utilization, risk mitigation, scientific engagement, and cultural preservation are parallel manifestations of outer space as environment, and crucial aspects of our engagement with it. Building upon this framework, the project’s key contribution is to show how this taxonomy helps better conceptualize the leeway of states regulating space activities, as well as rules and principles in international law, applicable to environmental protection and policies instigated by states.
A central aspect of this study is the investigation of how categorizing space as an environment influences international investment law, particularly regarding state regulations and their impact on private sector activities. The project posits that space, much like terrestrial and atmospheric domains, can be subject to environmental protection measures which may conflict with commercial interests. This conflict is explored through the lens of international investment agreements (IIAs) and arbitration cases where states have imposed environmental regulations impacting foreign investments.


Dr. Güneş Ünüvar is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Luxembourg Centre for European Law (LCEL), University of Luxembourg, a Counsel on Space Law and Regulation at Luxembourg-based law firm WOUD. He is also the Legal Advisor for the NGO Moon Village Association and the Managing Editor of the Journal of World Investment and Trade (Brill). Prior to his current positions, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg, and a Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) at the University of Copenhagen. His research focuses on international economic law and dispute settlement, international space law and the role of private actors in the space sector. He is currently working on a monograph focusing on the intersection between foreign investment protection and international space law (Brill), and an edited volume on international investment law and environmental protection (Cambridge University Press).


Selected publications

Güneş Ünüvar with Aysel Küçüksu, Vulnerability Theory as a Paradigm Shift in International Investment Law: Reimagining the Role of the State

Business and Human Rights Journal (2023)

Güneş Ünüvar A Tale of Policy Carve-outs and General Exceptions: Eco Oro v. Colombia as a Case Study

Journal of International Dispute Settlement (2023)