About Earth System Governance

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 www.earthsystemgovernance.org) is organized around five analytical themes. 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, access and allocation deal with justice, equity, and fairness.

The 2014 Norwich Conference on Earth System Governance will address these five analytical themes with a special focus on access and allocation.

Conference Themes

Access and Allocation of Resources (Water, Food, Energy, Health and Wellbeing, Forests and Carbon Rights)

Access and Allocation not only relates to material resources (e.g. water, forests) but also to the allocation and allocation of immaterial values such as rights, benefits, responsibilities and risks. Issues of access and allocation demand new answers in times of the Anthropocene, an era of human-dominated ecosystems. Such responses need to be interdisciplinary and reconcile with governance effectiveness. Conflicts about natural resources such as water, forests, food, energy and carbon are in essence questions related to the allocation of and access to these resources, and often linked to concepts of security, i.e. “food security” and “water security”.

Transformative Pathways to Sustainability

This theme is one of three themes under Future Earth and attempts to understand transformation processes and options across sectors and scales to identify strategies for the sustainable governance of the global environment and the relationship to human values, emerging technologies and economic paradigms. It will address the various blockages to these transformations and how to overcome them. This analysis will also involve new forms of localism and collective self-reliance at the scale of community across the whole planet.

Papers addressing the other analytical themes of architecture, agency, adaptiveness and accountability as well as methodological issues relevant for earth system governance research, the science-society interface and interdisciplinarity are also invited.