Guest Blog Post: Earth System Governance Initiative on International Environmental Governance
Jul 25, 2011

Recently, the Earth System Governance Project has launched an initiative on ‘international environmental governance and the institutional framework for sustainable development’ that aims at contributing to the process leading to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

The term ‘International Environmental Governance’ refers to the efforts by UNEP and others to support a coherent structure of international governance on environmental issues. The closely related notion of an ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’ is one of the two themes for Rio+20.

This initiative aims at providing researchers on earth system governance, and the broader global change research community, with an overview on the state of research on these topics. The initiative is also designed to target decision-makers and to contribute not just to a better understanding but also to actual improvements in international environmental governance towards an institutional framework that enables sustainable development.

In addition, the Earth System Governance Project has been mandated to compile a fast-track policy-relevant assessment of the state of research on the institutional framework for sustainable development. This assessment shall provide the lead input of the scientific community to the international policy process leading to Rio+20, and is an integral part of this new initiative.

At the core of this initiative is a new website: This website will compile easy accessible and structured information on International Environmental Governance and will solicit advice and comments from the global research communities, stakeholders, and policy-makers, hopefully leading to a lively science-based but solution-oriented discussion.

This initiative will also contribute to a further understanding of all five analytical problems of earth system governance, and thus to bringing answers to the core questions of earth system governance closer. The five analytical problems – or the five A’s – of earth system governance address the overall governance architecture, the role of different agents in governance, the overall adaptiveness of the governance systems, mechanisms of accountability, and modes of allocation and access.

The notion of accountability refers here to the democratic quality, transparency and legitimacy of governance processes and outcomes. The more we confer regulatory competence and authority upon formal and informal institutions and systems of governance—especially at the global level—the more will we be confronted with questions of how to ensure the accountability and legitimacy of the governance systems that are created and made more effective.

The problem of access and allocation is about the access to and distribution of material and immaterial values —it is about justice, fairness, and equity, as is any political activity. The novel character of earth system transformation and of the new governance solutions that are being developed, puts questions of access and allocation, de- bated for millennia, in a new light. It might require new answers to old questions.

Earth System Governance Project

The Earth System Governance Project is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change. See for information about the project and the concept of ‘earth system governance.’

Thank you to Christopher Baan of Earth System Governance for writing this post!


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