Traditional approaches for understanding environmental governance — such as environmental policy analysis or natural resources management — do not adequately address the gamut of human–natural system interactions within the context of the complex biogeophysical cycles and processes of the planet. This is perhaps more so in the African regional context where the complex relationships between modern and traditional governance systems and global change dynamics are arguably more pronounced. The Earth System Governance (ESG) Analytical Framework encompasses diverse systems and actors involved in the regulation of societal activities and behaviors vis-à-vis earth system dynamics. The concept encompasses a myriad of public and private actors and actor networks at all levels of policy and decision-making. The existence of, and interaction among, these diverse actors and systems, however, is under-researched in the African context. Various research approaches taken to address crucial global environmental change (GEC) challenges in Africa have proven to be inadequate because they tend to overlook the complex interactions among the various local actors, players, and indigenous conditions and practices vis-à-vis GEC system drivers and teleconnections. Similarly, the regional peculiarities in terms of governance typologies and socio-cultural diversity highlight the need for nuanced understanding of the complex interactions and nexuses among multiple actors and interests and Earth system processes. However, this diversity and complexity has often been lost in generalized enquiries. We argue that examination of the governance-GEC nexus through the aid of the ESG Framework would provide a much broader and more helpful insight.
The article is based on a scoping workshop organized by the Global Change SysTem for Analysis, Research, and Training (START), in collaboration with the Earth System Governance Project and the Institute of Environmental and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana, with financial support provided by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, administered through the U.S. National Science Foundation (Grant GEO-0937206). Representing a diversity of disciplines, including political science, law, geography, natural resources management and environmental sciences, attendees of the workshop (all serving as authors of this article) developed a comprehensive strategy paper on key research needs in ESG research in Africa, of which this article presents the key insights in an abridged version.