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Earth system governance is a recently developed paradigm that builds on earlier notions of environmental policy and nature conservation, but puts these into the broader context of human-induced transformations of the entire earth system. It conceptualizes the system of formal and informal rules, rule-making mechanisms and actor-networks at all levels of human society (from local to global) that are set up to steer societies towards preventing, mitigating, and adapting to global and local environmental change and earth system transformation, within the normative context of sustainable development.
The notion of governance refers to forms of steering that are less hierarchical than traditional governmental policy-making (even though most modern governance arrangements will also include some degree of hierarchy), rather decentralized, open to self-organization, and inclusive of non-state actors that range from industry and non-governmental organizations to scientists, indigenous communities, city governments and international organizations.
The integrative new paradigm of earth system governance has evolved into an active research area that brings together a variety of social science disciplines including political science, sociology, economics, ecology, policy studies, geography, sustainability science, and law.
Major international conferences on ‘Earth System Governance’ have been held in Amsterdam (2007, 2009), Berlin (2008, 2010), Colorado (2011), Lund (2012, 2017), Tokyo (2013), Norwich (2014), Canberra (2015) and Nairobi (2016). In 2017, the 8th Annual Earth System Governance Conference took place in Lund, Sweden. This conference was co-hosted by Lund University during its 350 year celebration. In 2018 it is due to be held in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
On 16–19 May 2011, more than twenty Nobel Laureates, several leading policy-makers and some of the world’s most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability met for the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. The Nobel Laureate Symposium concluded with the Stockholm Memorandum, calling for "strengthening of Earth System Governance" as a priority for coherent global action. This memorandum has been submitted to the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General and fed into the preparations for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The new paradigm of earth system governance was originally developed in the Netherlands by Professor Frank Biermann in his inaugural lecture at the VU University Amsterdam, which was published later in 2007 Based on this pioneering contribution, Biermann was invited by the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change to develop a long-term comprehensive international programme in this field, which became in 2009 the global Earth System Governance Project.
Key researchers who have applied the earth system governance framework in their work include Michele Betsill, John Dryzek, Peter M. Haas, Norichika Kanie, Lennart Olsson, and Oran Young. In 2011, Lund University appointed Biermann as guest professor of Earth System Governance, making him the worldwide first chair holder in this rapidly developing field of research.
The Earth System Governance Project
In 2009, the UN-sponsored global change research networks have set up a long-term research programme in earth system governance, the Earth System Governance Project. The Earth System Governance Project currently consists of a network of ca. 300 active and about 2,300 indirectly involved scholars from all continents, and is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change. The Earth System Governance Project is essentially a scientific effort, but also aims to assist policy responses to the pressing problems of global environmental change. The International Project Office of the Earth System Governance Project is based at Lund University, Sweden.
Research centres on ‘Earth System Governance’ have been set up or designated at VU University Amsterdam; the Australian National University; Chiang Mai University; Colorado State University; Lund University; University of East Anglia; University of Oldenburg; the Stockholm Resilience Centre; the University of Toronto; the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Yale University. In addition, strong networks on earth system governance research exist in China, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia.
MIT Press launched in 2009 a new book series on Earth System Governance. Recent papers drawing on the paradigm of integrated earth system governance research have analysed issues as diverse as river basin management in Hungary, deforestation policies in the Amazon, and climate change adaptation in Australia.
The Earth System Governance Project builds on a conceptual framework that is organized into five analytical problems. The five analytical problems identified in the Science and Implementation Plan of the Earth System Governance Project are:
- The overall architecture of earth system governance
- Agency beyond the state and of the state
- The adaptiveness of governance mechanisms
- The accountability and legitimacy of governance mechanisms
- The modes of allocation and access in earth system governance
- Earth System Science Partnership
- International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
- International Human Dimensions Programme
- World Climate Research Programme
- DIVERSITAS, an international programme for biodiversity research
- Global Carbon Project
- Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone
- Global Land Project
- Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Project (UGEC)
- Global Water System Project (GWSP)
- Earth System Governance Project
- Environmental governance
- Global governance
- Social science
- Sustainability governance
- Earth System Analysis/ Earth System Science
- Environmental Science
- Global Change
- Global governance
- Global environmental governance
- Multi-level governance
- Climate Governance
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Policy
- Ecological economics
- Ecological modernization
- Sustainability science
- Sustainable Development
- Transition Management
- Planetary Boundaries
- The Anthropocene
- Biermann, Frank, Michele M. Betsill, Joyeeta Gupta, Norichika Kanie, Louis Lebel, Diana Liverman, Heike Schroeder, and Bernd Siebenhüner, with contributions from Ken Conca, Leila da Costa Ferreira, Bharat Desai, Simon Tay, and Ruben Zondervan. 2009. Earth System Governance: People, Places and the Planet. Science and Implementation Plan of the Earth System Governance Project Archived 8 July 2012 at Archive.today. Earth System Governance Report 1, IHDP Report 20. Bonn, IHDP: The Earth System Governance Project.
- 2017 Lund Conference on Earth System Governance
- "2018 Utrecht Conference on Earth System Governance". www.earthsystemgovernance.org. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
- Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability
- "Stockholm Memorandum: Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability". Archived from the original on 11 December 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
- The Stockholm Memorandum
- Frank Biermann. 2007. ‘Earth system governance’ as a crosscutting theme of global change research. Global Environmental Change. Volume 17, Issues 3-4, August–October 2007, pp. 326-337.
-  The Broker Online
- Nobel Laureates Hand in Recommendations to UN Panel on Global Sustainability
- Werners, Saskia E.., Zsuzsanna Flachner, Piotr Matczak, Maria Falaleeva, and Rik Leemans. 2009. Exploring earth system governance: A case study of floodplain management along the Tisza river in Hungary. Global Environmental Change, 19 (4): 503-511
- Schroeder, Heike. 2010. Agency in international climate negotiations: the case of indigenous peoples and avoided deforestation. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 10 (4): 317-332
- Gero, A., Méheux, K. and Dominey-Howes, D. 2010. Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Pacific: The challenge of integration Archived 26 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine. ATRC-NHRL Miscellaneous Report 4.
- Biermann, Frank, Michele M. Betsill, Joyeeta Gupta, Norichika Kanie, Louis Lebel, Diana Liverman, Heike Schroeder, and Bernd Siebenhüner, with contributions from Ken Conca, Leila da Costa Ferreira, Bharat Desai, Simon Tay, and Ruben Zondervan. 2009. Earth System Governance: People, Places and the Planet. Science and Implementation Plan of the Earth System Governance Project Archived 8 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Earth System Governance Report 1, IHDP Report 20. Bonn, IHDP: The Earth System Governance Project.
- Betsill, Michele M., Philipp Pattberg, and Eleni Dellas, 2011. Agency in Earth System Governance. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 11 (1): 1-6.
- Biermann, F. 2007. ‘Earth system governance’ as a crosscutting theme of global change research. Global Environmental Change Nr. 17 (2007) 326–337.
- Biermann, F., M. M. Betsill, J. Gupta, N. Kanie, L. Lebel, D. Liverman, H. Schroeder, and B. Siebenhüner. 2009. Earth System Governance. People, Places and the Planet. Science and Implementation Plan of the Earth System Governance Project. International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, IHDP Report No. 20.
- Biermann, Frank, Ruben Zondervan (editors). 2010. Earth System Governance. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 10 (4): 273-276.
- Bouteligier, Sofie. 2011. Exploring the agency of global environmental consultancy firms in earth system governance. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 11 (1): 43-61.
- Bowen, Kathryn J., Sharon Friel, Kristie Ebi, Colin D. Butler, Fiona Miller and Anthony J. McMichael. 2012. Governing for a Healthy Population: Towards an Understanding of How Decision-Making Will Determine Our Global Health in a Changing Climate. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 9: 55-72.
- Dellas, Eleni., Philipp Pattberg, and Michele Betsill. 2011. Agency in earth system governance: refining a research agenda. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 11 (1): 85-98.
- Dryzek, John S., Hayley Stevenson. 2011. Global democracy and earth system governance. Ecological Economics, 70 (11): 1865-1874.
- Gupta, Joyeeta., Louis Lebel. 2010. Access and allocation in earth system governance: water and climate change compared. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 10 (4): 377-395.
- Spagnuolo, Francesca. 2011. Diversity and pluralism in earth system governance: Contemplating the role for global administrative law. Ecological Economics, 70 (11): 1875-1881.
- Werners, Saskia E., Zsuzsanna Flachner, Piotr Matczak, Maria Falaleeva, and Rik Leemans. 2009. Exploring earth system governance: A case study of floodplain management along the Tisza river in Hungary. Global Environmental Change, 19 (4): 503-511.
- Young, O.,H. Schroeder and L. A. King (eds). 2008. Institutions and Environmental Change: Principal Findings, Applications, and Research Frontiers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Zondervan, Ruben. 2009. Looking toward the Future - The Earth System Governance Project. IHDP Update, 1: 47-50.