Earth system governance is defined in this project as the interrelated and increasingly integrated system of formal and informal rules, rule-making systems, 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, in particular, earth system transformation, within the normative context of sustainable development.
The notion of governance refers here 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 de-centralized, 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.
Based on this general notion, the Earth System Governance Project advances a science plan that is organized, around five analytical problems: Architecture, Agency, Adaptiveness, Accountability, and Allocation & Access.
In addition, the Earth System Governance Project emphasizes four crosscutting research themes that are crucial for the study of each analytical problem but also for the integrated understanding of earth system governance. These crosscutting themes are: power, knowledge, norms, and scale.
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. Earth System Governance Report 1, IHDP Report 20. Bonn, IHDP: The Earth System Governance Project.