Project

Earth System Governance Project

Goal: The Earth System Governance Project is a long-term international research programme that was originally set up as a Core Project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). In 2015, the Project has become part of the new global umbrella programme ‘Future Earth’. The Earth System Governance Project’s Science Plan is implemented since 2009 through a new global network of affiliated researchers, including about 300 research fellows and 50 lead faculty members; a global series of annual open science conferences, with events in Amsterdam (2007, 2009), Colorado (2011), Lund (2012), Tokyo (2013), East Anglia (2014), Australian National University (2015) and Nairobi (2016); a global alliance of Earth System Governance Research Centres; a global network of task forces, affiliated projects, and smaller events; and a network of social media outlets, internet fora and affiliated publication series, including with MIT Press. The international project office is hosted by Lund University, Sweden. See www.earthsystemgovernance.org for more information.

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Xuemei Bai
added a research item
As human activity threatens to make the planet unsafe for humanity and other life forms, scholars are identifying planetary targets set at a safe distance from biophysical thresholds beyond which critical Earth systems may collapse. Yet despite the profound implications that both meeting and transgressing such targets may have for human wellbeing, including the potential for negative trade-offs, there is limited social science analysis that systematically considers the justice dimensions of such targets. Here we assess a range of views on planetary justice and present three arguments associated with why social scientists should engage with the scholarship on safe targets. We argue that complementing safe targets with just targets offers a fruitful approach for considering synergies and trade-offs between environmental and social aspirations and can inform inclusive deliberation on these important issues.
Xuemei Bai
added a research item
Keeping the Earth system in a stable and resilient state, to safeguard Earth's life support systems while ensuring that Earth's benefits, risks, and related responsibilities are equitably shared, constitutes the grand challenge for human development in the Anthropocene. Here, we describe a framework that the recently formed Earth Commission will use to define and quantify target ranges for a “safe and just corridor” that meets these goals. Although “safe” and “just” Earth system targets are interrelated, we see safe as primarily referring to a stable Earth system and just targets as being associated with meeting human needs and reducing exposure to risks. To align safe and just dimensions, we propose to address the equity dimensions of each safe target for Earth system regulating systems and processes. The more stringent of the safe or just target ranges then defines the corridor. Identifying levers of social transformation aimed at meeting the safe and just targets and challenges associated with translating the corridor to actors at multiple scales present scope for future work.
Frank Biermann
added 4 research items
We develop a conceptual framework to empirically analyse conceptualizations of ‘justice’ in the context of profound transformations of the earth system. Equity and justice have become central issues in public discourses, political documents and research agendas. However, what justice implies in practice is often elusive. The conceptual framework that we advance seeks to bring structure, clarity, simplicity and comparability among different interpretations of justice in global change research. It reduces the wealth of five broad normative approaches to systematic, parsimonious answers on three key concerns any analyst of justice is facing: the subjects of justice and their relationship; the metrics and principles of justice; and the mechanisms on the basis of which justice is pursued. Our framework is designed for use in empirical analysis. We illustrate its usability by investigating two recent policy documents: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the founding documents of the ‘Future Earth’ research platform.
In times of accelerating earth system transformations and their potentially disruptive societal consequences, imagining and governing the future is now a core challenge for sustainability research and practice. Much social science and sustainability science scholarship increasingly engages with the future. There is, however, a lack of scrutiny of how the future is envisioned in these literatures, and with what implications for governance in the present. This article analyses these two aspects, building on the concept of “anticipatory governance.” We understand anticipatory governance to broadly mean governing in the present to adapt to or shape uncertain futures. We review perspectives within public policy, futures studies, social–ecological systems, environmental policy and governance, transition studies, science and technology studies, and responsible research and innovation literatures. All these literatures engage explicitly or implicitly with the notion of anticipatory governance, yet from distinct ontological and epistemological starting points. Through our review, we identify four approaches to anticipatory governance that differ with regard to (a) their conceptions of and engagement with the future; (b) their implications for actions to be taken in the present; and (c) the ultimate end to be realized through anticipatory governance. We then map onto these four approaches a diverse set of methods and tools of anticipation that each engages with. In concluding, we discuss how these four approaches provide a useful analytical lens through which to assess ongoing practices of anticipatory governance in the climate and sustainability realm. This article is categorized under: Policy and Governance > Multilevel and Transnational Climate Change Governance
Frank Biermann
added a research item
What is the future of 'environmental' policy in times of earth system transformations and the recognition of the 'Anthropocene' as a new epoch in planetary history? I argue that fifty years after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, we need to revisit the 'environmental policy' paradigm because it falls short on five grounds. The paradigm (a) emphasizes a dichotomy of 'humans' and 'nature' that is no longer defensible; (b) is incompatible with more integrated research concepts that have overcome this human-environment dichotomy; (c) deemphasizes questions of planetary justice and democracy; (d) fails to deal with novel normative challenges of the Anthropocene; and (e) may risk political marginalization of central concerns of human and non-human survival. In the second part I discuss institutional implications, arguing for novel approaches in science collaboration, new institutional arrangements and a more central place for questions of planetary justice and earth-system risks in governance.
Xuemei Bai
added a research item
Financing mitigation actions in cities is critical to achieving 1.5 C emissions pathways. Direct funding, such as grants and subsidies, is a feasible financial instrument to enable local authorities to conduct climate mitigation projects. Current literature has largely focused on the cost-effectiveness of direct-funding instruments on carbon reduction, but little on how these instruments influence other aspects of the urban low-carbon transition. A comprehensive understanding of the role of direct funding in low-carbon transition is important, as this new understanding may potentially encourage more direct investments by cities into their low-carbon initiatives. Here we examine the direct and flow-on effects of a city-level direct-funding scheme on urban low-carbon initiatives, taking Shanghai as a case study. Our findings show that the direct results of Shanghai's fund scheme include carbon reduction outcomes and a variety of policy outputs, such as a range of subsidy policies, data reporting systems, and demonstration projects. More importantly, over the 11 years of its implementation, the fund has become a catalyst for a series of institutional changes e by enabling and enhancing cooperation across numerous government departments in Shanghai. In addition, the funding scheme created avenues for the engagement of business stakeholders and raising public awareness on low-carbon and sustainability issues, through subsidizing technology adoption and low-carbon-themed campaigns. Collectively, these processes have improved the city's capacity for achieving low-carbon transition. Our study shows that a well-designed, city-level direct-funding scheme can fill the "implementation" gap between the policy intentions (i.e., the low-carbon initiatives and implementation framework) and the policy outcomes (e.g., carbon reduction and the institutional formation in the transition). Such a scheme may also nurture and enable a pool of policy experiments and innovations for effective policy learning, identification of successful experiments, and upscaling. With these broader catalytic effects, a city-level direct fund could be a justifiable and attractive option in managing low-carbon transition.
Frank Biermann
added a research item
This article identifies diverse rationales to call for anticipatory governance of solar geoengineering, in light of a climate crisis. In focusing on governance rationales, we step back from proliferating debates in the literature on ‘how, when, whom, and where’ to govern, to address the important prior question of why govern solar geoengineering in the first place: to restrict or enable its further consideration? We link these opposing rationales to contrasting underlying visions of a future impacted by climate change. These visions see the future as either more or less threatening, depending upon whether it includes the possible future use of solar geoengineering. Our analysis links these contrasting visions and governance rationales to existing governance proposals in the literature. In doing so, we illustratewhy some proposals differ so significantly, while also showing that similar-sounding proposals may emanate from quite distinct rationales and thus advance different ends, depending upon how they are designed in practice.
Xuemei Bai
added 2 research items
It is no longer possible nor desirable to address the dual challenges of equity and sustainability separately. Instead, they require new thinking and approaches which recognize their interlinkages, as well as the multiple perspectives and dimensions involved. We illustrate how equity and sustainability are intertwined, and how a complex social–ecological systems lens brings together advances from across the social and natural sciences to show how (in)equity and (un)sustainability are produced by the interactions and dynamics of coupled social–ecological systems. This should help understand which possible pathways could lead to sustainable and fair futures.
Responses to the pandemic in India’s slums, Brazil’s favelas and Africa’s marketplaces show that networks play a crucial part in making cities more resilient. Let’s enhance and empower them. Responses to the pandemic in India’s slums, Brazil’s favelas and Africa’s marketplaces show that networks play a crucial part in making cities more resilient. Let’s enhance and empower them.
Xuemei Bai
added a research item
Non-technical summary It is no longer possible nor desirable to address the dual challenges of equity and sustainability separately. Instead, they require new thinking and approaches which recognize their interlinkages, as well as the multiple perspectives and dimensions involved. We illustrate how equity and sustainability are intertwined, and how a complex social–ecological systems lens brings together advances from across the social and natural sciences to show how (in)equity and (un)sustainability are produced by the interactions and dynamics of coupled social–ecological systems. This should help understand which possible pathways could lead to sustainable and fair futures.
Louis Lebel
added a research item
This study explores the way climate change adaptation projects in Cambodia and Lao PDR have been framed. Four frames were identified: inadequate infrastructure; information deficits; limited planning capacity; and insecure access. In all frames, there was internal coherence among: the problems identified; the form solutions are expected to take; and who should be included and in what roles. All projects claimed to be addressing the needs of farmers vulnerable to climate change. The infrastructure, information, and capacity frames are apolitical and privilege expert knowledge, whereas the access frame places rights and justice issues centrally, and thus holds more potential for addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities and supporting more just distribution of resources and power. Framing can interact with how projects are governed, for example, through assigning roles to actors based on types of solutions prescribed. The extent and direction of frame elaboration also depend on how a project is governed. Meeting local needs and objectives, for example, is constrained when external actors have too much influence in project governing structures, and initial project plans written from afar are followed too narrowly. This study shows that frames are an important part of the governance of adaptation projects.
Frank Biermann
added 5 research items
In 2001, the four global change research programmes ‘urgently’ called for ‘an ethical framework for global stewardship and strategies for Earth System management’. Yet this notion of ‘earth system management’ remains vaguely defined: It is too elusive for natural scientists, and too ambitious or too normative for social scientists. In this article, I develop an alternative concept that is better grounded in social science theory: ‘earth system governance’. I introduce, first, the concept of earth system governance as a new social phenomenon, a political programme and a crosscutting theme of research in the field of global environmental change. I then sketch the five key problem structures that complicate earth system governance, and derive from these four overarching principles for earth system governance as political practice, namely credibility, stability, adaptiveness, and inclusiveness. In the last part of the article, I identify five research and governance challenges that lie at the core of earth system governance as a crosscutting theme in global change research. These are the problems of the overall architecture of earth system governance, of agency beyond the state, of the adaptiveness of governance mechanisms and of their accountability and legitimacy, and of the modes of allocation in earth system governance—in short, the five A's of earth system governance research.
The Earth System Science Partnership, which unites all major global change research programmes, declared in 2001 an urgent need to develop ''strategies for Earth System management''. Yet what such strategies might be, how they could be developed, and how effective, efficient and equitable such strategies would be, remains unspecified. It is apparent that the institutions, organizations and mechanisms by which humans currently govern their relationship with the natural environment and global biochemical systems are not only insufficient—they are also poorly understood. This article presents the science programme of the Earth System Governance Project, a new 10-year global research effort Environmental Change (IHDP). It outlines the concept of earth system governance as a challenge for the social sciences, and it elaborates on the interlinked analytical problems and research questions of earth system governance as an object of study. These analytical problems concern the overall architecture of earth system governance, agency beyond the state and of the state, the adaptiveness of governance mechanisms and processes as well as their accountability and legitimacy, and modes of allocation and access in earth system gov-ernance. The article also outlines four crosscutting research themes that are crucial for the study of each analytical problem as well as for the integrated understanding of earth system governance: the role of power, knowledge, norms and scale.
This article was submitted without an abstract, please refer to the full-text PDF file.
Xuemei Bai
added a research item
Cities can play a key role in the low-carbon transition, with an increasing number of cities engaging in carbon mitigation actions. The literature on urban low-carbon transition shows that low-carbon urban development is an inevitable trend of urban sustainable future; there is a great potential albeit with some limitations for cities to reduce its carbon footprints, and there are diverse pathways for cities to achieve low-carbon development. There is, however, a limited understanding in terms of the internal mechanism of urban low-carbon transition, especially in rapidly developing economies. This paper attempts to address this gap. We examine how low-carbon policies emerge and evolve, and what are the enabling mechanisms, taking Shanghai as a case study. We developed an analytical framework drawing on system innovation theory and sustainability experiments for this purpose. A total of 186 relevant policies were selected and analyzed, which is supplemented by the interviews with stakeholders in the government to gain a deeper insight into the policy contexts in Shanghai. We found that the city’s low-carbon initiatives are embedded and integrated into its existing policy frameworks. A strong vertical linkage between the central and the local governments, and more importantly, a nested structure for innovative policy practices were identified, where a top-down design is met with bottom-up innovation and proactive adoption of enabling mechanism. The structure includes two layers of experiments that facilitate learning through policy experiments across scales. The uniqueness, effectiveness, applicability and limitations of these efforts are discussed. The findings provide new theoretical and empirical insights into the multilevel governance of low-carbon transition in cities.
Private Profile
added a research item
Reviewing the engagement of the scientific community with the UN SDG negotiations, and how science could be better incorporated in this process
Private Profile
added a research item
We are pleased to introduce the second special issue from Challenges in Sustainability, this time as a part of the Taskforce on Conceptual Foundations of Earth System Governance, an initiative by the Earth System Governance Project (ESG) (http://www.earthsystemgovernance.net/conceptual-foundations/). The ESG Project is a global research alliance. It is the largest social science research network in the field of governance and global environmental change. ESG is primarily a scientific effort but is also designed to assist policy responses to pressing problems of earth system transformation.
Frank Biermann
added 6 research items
Over the past decades, numerous science institutions have evolved around issues of global sustainability, aiming to inform and shape societal transformations towards sustainability. While these science-based initiatives seem to take on an ever growing active role in governance for sustainable development, the question arises how they can claim any political authority in the first place. We present here a structured comparison of six international science-based initiatives, all engaged in governance processes related to the recently established Sustainable Development Goals. We focus on the material and rhetorical strategies employed by these science institutions to acquire authority by fostering perceptions of salience, credibility and legitimacy among governance actors. We distinguish three modes of scientific authority: an assessment-oriented mode that combines a strategy of salience through integration, with credibility by formal mechanisms of review, and legitimacy through representation; an advice-oriented mode, which appeals to salience through the promise of independent and timely science advice, to credibility through the credentials of the scientists involved, and to legitimacy through formal recognition by governance actors; and a solution-oriented mode, with science institutions claiming relevance based on the promise to contribute to solutions for global sustainability, while credibility is sought by invoking support of the scientific community, and legitimacy through a strategy of participation. Based on this analysis, we provide a framework for reflection on the claims and strategies of science-based initiatives, and their role and responsibility in governance for sustainable development.
A “world environment organization” does not exist. Yet proposals to create an international agency on environmental protection have been debated for over 40 years now (overviews in Biermann & Bauer 2005). More than 50 countries, including all the member states of the European Union, presently support the upgrading of the United Nations Environment Programme to a “United Nations Environment Organization.” This policy position is likely to form a major element in the negotiations around the 2012 international summit that will mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Sandra Van der Hel
added a research item
The notion of ‘transformations towards sustainability’ takes an increasingly central position in global sustainability research and policy discourse in recent years. Governance and politics are central to understanding and analysing transformations towards sustainability. However, despite receiving growing attention in recent years, the governance and politics aspects of transformations remain arguably under-developed in the global sustainability literature. A variety of conceptual approaches have been developed to understand and analyse societal transition or transformation processes, including: socio-technical transitions, social-ecological systems, sustainability pathways, and transformative adaptation. This paper critically surveys these four approaches, and reflects on them through the lens of the Earth System Governance framework (Biermann et al., 2009). This contributes to appreciating existing insights on transformations, and to identifying key research challenges and opportunities. Overall, the paper brings together diverse perspectives, that have so far remained largely fragmented, in order to strengthen the foundation for future research on transformations towards sustainability.
Frank Biermann
added 4 research items
Future historians might remember the period 2009-2012 as a turning point in the political response to global warming and climate change. The 1980s were a time of agenda-setting in which climate change became accepted as a political problem; the 1990s saw the first institutionalization through adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and its Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The 2000s marked the period of ratification of the protocol and further institutionalization of its means of implementation. Yet the Kyoto Protocol was merely a first step, and its core commitments expire in 2012. Even full compliance with the Kyoto agreement will not prevent 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system' - the overall objective of the climate convention. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising, while drastic reductions of emissions are needed according to current scientific consensus (IPCC 2007). These years are thus a crucial moment for human societies to change current economic, social and political development paths and to embark on a transition to new ways of production and consumption that emit less carbon - or to adapt to a world that is substantially warmer and hence different from the world that human and natural systems have been adapted to so far. At the planetary level, this is the quest for long-term, stable and effective 'global governance'. The term governance derives from the Greek word for navigating, and this challenge of turning around the wheel and charting a new course is indeed what is at stake in current negotiations on climate change.
This chapter introduces the first main part of this volume, on the overarching 'architecture' of global climate governance beyond 2012. In particular, the central question that guides all chapters in this part is about the causes and consequences of fragmentation versus integration of governance architectures. We ask which type of governance architectures promises a higher degree of institutional performance in terms of social and environmental effectiveness, and in particular whether a well-integrated governance architecture is likely to be more effective than a fragmented governance architecture. This question of increasing fragmentation of systems of global governance and of its relative benefits and problems has become a major source of concern for observers and policy-makers alike. Yet there is little consensus in the academic literature on this issue: in different strands of academic research, we find different predictions that range from a positive, affirmative assessment of fragmentation to a rather negative one (Zelli et al., this volume, Chapter 3). A key example is global climate governance, where advantages and disadvantages of a fragmented governance architecture have become important elements in proposals and strategies for future institutional development. Several proposals for a future climate governance architecture have been put forward that explicitly assert the value of fragmentation or diversity, or at least implicitly accept it. Others, however, remain supportive of a more integrated overall architecture. And yet, political science lacks a conceptual framework for the comparative study of different types and degrees of fragmentation of global governance architectures.
Transnational environmental governance is the collective steering of societal processes by public and private actors in order to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to environmental change, involving two or more countries. Such processes typically involve a variety of actors. In addition to the traditional role of states, environmentalist groups, science networks, business associations, and intergovernmental organizations also play an increasing role in complex systems of multilevel governance. Major instruments of transnational environmental governance are international treaties and novel types of institutions concluded by nonstate actors. Problems of equity and legitimacy are becoming increasingly crucial. Importantly, the overall effectiveness of transnational environmental governance does not appear to be sufficient to prevent large-scale long-term transformations of the Earth system.
Andrew Jordan
added a research item
Policy coherence for development (PCD) — the integration of the needs of developing countries into all policy areas — is now an EU policy goal. This article focuses on how far this ambitious goal has been addressed in a policy procedure — impact assessment (IA) — established to support such cross-cutting goals. Drawing on an analysis of the 2006 and 2013 reforms of the EU’s sugar policy, it finds that while IA offered a new venue in which to debate PCD, in practice it reproduced the same disagreements that previously frustrated agricultural reform. The article shows how IA was shaped during its implementation, so instead of functioning as a bureaucratic procedure to pursue policy coherence, it simply buttressed the power of dominant groups. Advocates of policy coherence in general and PCD in particular should therefore be mindful that the toolbox of implementing instruments in the EU may be more limited than sometimes assumed.
Frank Biermann
added 6 research items
Aktuelle Forschungsergebnisse belegen, dass das gesamte Erdsystem aufgrund menschlicher Tätigkeiten außerhalb des Normalzustands der vergangenen 500.000 Jahre operiert. Eine der zentralen politischen Herausforderungen unserer Zeit ist es daher, die menschliche Entwicklung mit der des gesamten Erdsystems überein zu bringen und stabile soziale Institutionen aufzubauen, die eine langfristige Koevolution natürlicher und sozialer Systeme gewährleisten. Dies ist die Herausforderung der Erdsystem-Governance. Dieser Essay erläutert das Konzept der Erdsystem-Governance und skizziert die Grundzüge des Earth System Governance Projects.
The classification of a new epoch in planetary history as the 'Anthropocene' is fundamentally changing the way we understand our political systems. Given the inherently political nature of human societies, the Anthropocene also has to be understood as a global political phenomenon. The paper elaborates on how the Anthropocene is changing societal interdependence relationships, and sketches foundations of an emerging new paradigm in the social sciences, 'Earth System' governance. The notion of Earth System governance is developed as both an analytical and a normative research problem that is of fundamental relevance for the disciplines of political science and governance studies.
Critical Dialogue - Democratizing Global Climate Governance. By Stevenson Hayley and Dryzek John S. . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 256 pp. 18.99£ (paperback), 55.00£ (hardback). - Volume 14 Issue 1 - Frank Biermann
Tatiana Kluvánková
added 4 research items
This paper addresses the problems of institutional changes in governance and the framing of biodiversity conservation policy at the level of the enlarged European Union. The theoretical basis of the paper is institutional rebuilding in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of the emerging multilevel environmental governance of the EU. The data were collected from desk study research and interviews from five Central and Eastern European countries. The results show that he emergence of multilevel governance with multiple actors' participation is prone to create tensions, but evidence from the countries studied indicates that this is not necessarily a disadvantage.
The polycentricism concept as the instrument and concept of territorial governance is broadly discussed as the development in the EU brought high concentration of economic activities and population in the central space of pentagon and this concentration seems to be supported by the integration processes and EU enlargement. Existing disparities between metropolitan areas and peripheral regions are multiplied by the differentiated benefits of multifunctional land-use. The concept of spatio-structural polycentricism in the combination with the concept of territorial capital and polycentric governance has ambitious to contribute to the development of new spatial quality in the EU.
Frank Biermann
added a research item
While the concept of the Anthropocene reflects the past and present nature, scale and magnitude of human impacts on the Earth System, its true significance lies in how it can be used to guide attitudes, choices, policies and actions that influence the future. Yet, to date much of the research on the Anthropocene has focused on interpreting past and present changes, while saying little about the future. Likewise, many futures studies have been insufficiently rooted in an understanding of past changes, in particular the long-term co-evolution of bio-physical and human systems. The Anthropocene perspective is one that encapsulates a world of intertwined drivers, complex dynamic structures, emergent phenomena and unintended consequences, manifest across different scales and within interlinked biophysical constraints and social conditions. In this paper we discuss the changing role of science and the theoretical, methodological and analytical challenges in considering futures of the Anthropocene. We present three broad groups of research questions on: (1) societal goals for the future; (2) major trends and dynamics that might favor or hinder them; (3) and factors that might propel or impede transformations towards desirable futures. Tackling these questions requires the development of novel approaches integrating natural and social sciences as well as the humanities beyond what is current today. We present three examples, one from each group of questions, illustrating how science might contribute to the identification of desirable and plausible futures and pave the way for transformations towards them. We argue that it is time for debates on the sustainability of the Anthropocene to focus on opportunities for realizing desirable and plausible futures.
Frank Biermann
added a research item
The current institutional framework for sustainable development is by far not strong enough to bring about the swift transformative progress that is needed. This article contends that incrementalism—the main approach since the 1972 Stockholm Conference—will not suffice to bring about societal change at the level and speed needed to mitigate and adapt to earth system transformation. Instead, the article argues that transformative structural change in global governance is needed, and that the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro must turn into a major stepping stone for a much stronger institutional framework for sustainable development. The article details core areas where urgent action is required. The article is based on an extensive social science assessment conducted by 32 members of the lead faculty, scientific steering committee, and other affiliates of the Earth System Governance Project. This Project is a ten-year research initiative under the auspices of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), which is sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the United Nations University (UNU)
Frank Biermann
added a research item
In an Editorial now published in “Global Environmental Change”, 18 climate policy researchers argue that analyses of equity and justice are absolutely essential for our ability to understand climate politics and contribute to concrete efforts to achieve adequate, fair and enduring climate action for present and future generations. Climate change action is too important not to address the issue of equity; failing to do so risks the collapse of the new regime. Our article can be downloaded at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.08.002. This paper is also supported by the Planetary Justice Project, a new initiative launched by the Earth System Governance research alliance (www.earthsystemgovernance.org).
Frank Biermann
added a research item
Since it was first proposed in 2000, the concept of the Anthropocene has evolved in breadth and diversely. The concept encapsulates the new and unprecedented planetary-scale changes resulting from societal transformations and has brought to the fore the social drivers of global change. The concept has revealed tensions between generalized interpretations of humanity’s contribution to global change, and interpretations that are historically, politically and culturally situated. It motivates deep ethical questions about the politics and economics of global change, including diverse interpretations of past causes and future possibilities. As such, more than other concepts, the Anthropocene concept has brought front-and-center epistemological divides between and within the natural and social sciences, and the humanities. It has also brought new opportunities for collaboration. Here we explore the potential and challenges of the concept to encourage integrative understandings of global change and sustainability. Based on bibliometric analysis and literature review, we discuss the now wide acceptance of the term, its interpretive flexibility, the emerging narratives as well as the debates the concept has inspired. We argue that without truly collaborative and integrative research, many of the critical exchanges around the concept are likely to perpetuate fragmented research agendas and to reinforce disciplinary boundaries. This means appreciating the strengths and limitations of different knowledge domains, approaches and perspectives, with the concept of the Anthropocene serving as a bridge, which we encourage researchers and others to cross. This calls for institutional arrangements that facilitate collaborative research, training, and action, yet also depends on more robust and sustained funding for such activities. To illustrate, we briefly discuss three overarching global change problems where novel types of collaborative research could make a difference: (1) Emergent properties of socioecological systems; (2) Urbanization and resource nexus; and (3) Systemic risks and tipping points. Creative tensions around the Anthropocene concept can help the research community to move toward new conceptual syntheses and integrative action-oriented approaches that are needed to producing useful knowledge commensurable with the challenges of global change and sustainability.
Frank Biermann
added a project goal
The Earth System Governance Project is a long-term international research programme that was originally set up as a Core Project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). In 2015, the Project has become part of the new global umbrella programme ‘Future Earth’. The Earth System Governance Project’s Science Plan is implemented since 2009 through a new global network of affiliated researchers, including about 300 research fellows and 50 lead faculty members; a global series of annual open science conferences, with events in Amsterdam (2007, 2009), Colorado (2011), Lund (2012), Tokyo (2013), East Anglia (2014), Australian National University (2015) and Nairobi (2016); a global alliance of Earth System Governance Research Centres; a global network of task forces, affiliated projects, and smaller events; and a network of social media outlets, internet fora and affiliated publication series, including with MIT Press. The international project office is hosted by Lund University, Sweden. See www.earthsystemgovernance.org for more information.