The challenge of establishing effective strategies for mediating the relationship between humans and the natural world represents one of the most daunting tasks in the quest for environmental sustainability at all levels, from the local to the global. Environmental problems, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water quality and access problems, soil erosion and others, call into question the fundamental viability of how humans have organized the relationship between society and nature. There is an urgent need to identify and develop new strategies for steering societies towards a more sustainable relationship with the natural world.
The Earth System Governance Project was launched in 2009 to address these problems of environmental governance. In this project, “earth system governance” is defined as the interrelated 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 Earth System Governance Project’s Science Plan (available at http://www.earthsystemgovernance.org) is organized around five analytical problems.
Architecture relates to the emergence, design and effectiveness of governance arrangements. Agency addresses questions of who governs the earth system and how. Adaptiveness research explores the ability of governance systems to change in the face of new knowledge and challenges as well as to enhance adaptiveness of social-ecological systems in the face of major disturbances. Accountability refers to the democratic quality of environmental governance arrangements. Finally, allocation and access deal with justice, equity, and fairness. These analytical problems are united by the cross-cutting themes of power, knowledge, norms and scale.
The Earth System Governance Project is a core project of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) under the auspices of the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the International Council for Science (ICSU), and the United Nations University (UNU).