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Earth System Governance and Rio+20

Over the next days, thousands of diplomats and civil society representatives will convene in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and to assess progress and needs for further action.

The Earth System Governance Project, including many of its lead faculty members, research fellows and affiliated research centres, have supported this process over the last two years with a series of publications, conferences, and events.

Also during the Rio+20 Conference, we will continue publishing op-eds and information on brand-new publications, events, announcements and on-site impressions from our many members present in Rio on You can also follow our special Facebook page or Twitter account.

Regardless of the outcomes of the Rio conference, we believe that fundamental change in current governance is needed. Our synthesizing policy assessment, coauthored by 32 leading members of our network and published on 16 March 2012 in “Science”, lays out in detail a host of measures that decision-makers could take in Rio and afterwards to improve earth system governance (see open access article “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance” in Science). We have elaborated on these ideas further in a visioning document adopted at an expert workshop in Hakone, Japan (see Hakone Vision), as well as in longer articles, including in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (“Transforming Governance and Institutions for Global Sustainability”) and in Environment (“Greening the United Nations Charter”).

These and numerous other publications are freely available at, where you can also find shorter policy reports, weblinks to other organizations and documents, and daily updated news headlines.

Our website, as well as our Facebook and LinkedIn presence, is open for comments from anybody who cares about improvements in earth system governance. We also invite proposals for op-eds that stimulate further debate and outline possible reform options.

Our op-eds include:

Ideas for a Sustainable Development Outlook (Jorge Laguna-Celis)

Prospects for Rio Plus 20? (Peter M. Haas)

A Sustainable Development Council (Birgit Lode, Marianne Beisheim, Nils Simon)

Governing a Complex Earth System (Victor Galaz)

5 reasons for a UN Chief Scientific Advisor (Owen Gaffney)

Our Common Values (Klaas van Egmond)

The Challenge of the JLG (Walker Young)

We Don’t See the Forest for the Trees (Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers and Philipp Pattberg)

Towards Decentralized Governance Structures (Norichika Kanie)

Are Governments Ready For Rio 2012? (Carole Excell and Emma Smith)

Ethics in the United Nations (Maayke Aimée Damen)

Governance for Sustainability towards Rio+20 (Ruben Zondervan)

Research gaps in the institutional design of global democracy (Jo Leinen and Andreas Bummel)

International Environmental Governance as paradigm governance (James Greyson)

Global vision for Rio+20 and beyond (Mukul Sanwal)

Becoming good ancestors (World Future Council)

Rio+20 is, regardless of its outcomes, merely a stepping stone toward effective, equitable, and legitimate earth system governance. Our global network of earth system governance researchers will continue vital research efforts in the years to come. We welcome contributions from all colleagues to join our initiative. More information on how researchers can become involved in the Earth System Governance Project is at – or simply e-mail We look forward to your response.

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