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Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance

In an article published in Science on 16 March 2012, 32 leading governance experts from the Earth System Governance research alliance argue for a fundamental overhaul of global environmental governance.

→ abstract and open access to full text

They state that in order to reduce the risk of potential global environmental disaster, a “constitutional moment” is required, comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II.

Stark increases in natural disasters, food and water security problems and biodiversity loss are just part of the evidence that humanity may be crossing planetary boundaries and approaching dangerous tipping points. A more effective environmental governance system needs to be instituted soon, according to the article.

In particular, the group argues for the creation of a UN Sustainable Development Council to better integrate sustainable development concerns across the UN system, with a strong role for the twenty largest economies (G20).

The article also suggests upgrading of the UN Environment Programme to a full-fledged UN agency – a step that would give it greater authority, more secure funding, and facilitate the creation and enforcement of international regulations and standards.

In addition, the article calls for stronger consultative rights for representatives of civil society in global governance, based on mechanisms that balance differences in influence and resources among civil society representatives.

In order to improve the speed of decision-making in international negotiations, the article calls for stronger reliance on qualified majority-voting in international decision-making.

The scientists also argue for increased financial support for poorer nations, including through novel financial mechanisms such as air transportation levies.

The assessment underlying this article has been mandated by the organizers of the huge science conference “Planet under Pressure”, held 26-29 March 2012 in London, with several thousand scientists participating. It is also a key contribution of the science community to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”).


Full reference: Biermann, F., K. Abbott, S. Andresen, K. Bäckstrand, S. Bernstein, M. M. Betsill, H. Bulkeley, B. Cashore, J. Clapp, C. Folke, A. Gupta, J. Gupta, P. M. Haas, A. Jordan,  N. Kanie, T. Kluvánková-Oravská, L. Lebel, D. Liverman, J. Meadowcroft, R. B. Mitchell, P. Newell, S. Oberthür, L. Olsson, P. Pattberg, R. Sánchez-Rodríguez, H. Schroeder, A. Underdal, S. Camargo Vieira, C. Vogel, O. R. Young, A. Brock, R. Zondervan. 2012. Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance. Science, Vol. 335 No. 6074, 1306-1307, 16 March 2012. [available at]

Selected media coverage

2012-03-15, UANews: Policy Changes Needed to Combat Environmental Change [read]

2012-03-15, EurekAlert!: Fundamental overhaul of global environmental governance needed, argues article in Science [read]

2012-03-15, EurekAlert!: Scholars call for global governance overhaul to ensure earth’s sustainability [read]

2012-03-15, LiveScience (Wynne Parry): How to Fix International Inaction on Climate [read]

2012-03-15, Do Globo Natureza (Eduardo Carvalho): Cientistas apresentam propostas para dar peso à negociação da Rio+20 [read]

2012-03-15, Ecosfera (Ricardo Garcia): Cientistas defendem fim da regra do consenso nas decisões mundiais de ambiente [read]

2012-03-15, Science Newsline nature: Fundamental Overhaul of Global Environmental Governance Needed, Argues Article in Science [read]

2012-03-16, EurekAlert!: Fundamental steps needed now in global redesign of Earth system governance [read]

2012-03-16, CHANS-Net: Fundamental overhaul of global environmental governance needed, argue experts [read]

2012-03-16, Miljöaktuellt (Anders Danielsson): Lista: Här är 7 åtgärder som ska rädda Jorden [read]

2012-03-16, ScienceDaily: Fundamental Steps Needed Now in Global Redesign of Earth System Governance, Experts Say [read]

2012-03-16, Volkskrant: VU: Fundamentele verandering milieubeleid nodig [read]

2012-03-16, Estado de Minas: Cientistas querem menos burocracia para solucionar questões ambientais [read]

2012-03-16, veda.sme: Slovenka má štúdiu v magazíne Science [read]

2012-03-16, Earth-system governance [read]

2012-03-17, Forbes (Jeff McMahon): Scientists Call for Stronger Global Governance to Address Climate Change [read]

2012-03-17, Blogs Scientific American (Gary Stix): Effective World Government Will Be Needed to Stave Off Climate Catastrophe [read]

2012-03-18, One World (Bill Gunyon): Is Rio+20 capable of a constitutional moment? [read]

2012-03-19, Environment News Service: Experts: Avoid Disaster, Overhaul Global Environmental Governance [read]

2012-03-20, Wageningen School of Social Sciences: Aarti Gupta (ENP) writes in Science on developing a global governance system for sustainability [read]

2012-03-26, Today @ Colorado State University (Tony Phifer): CSU Professor helps craft report on earth system governance [read]

2012-04-02, RMSMC (Jason Pohl): Colorado State professor researches link between politics and climate change [read]

2012-04-11, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian (Nancy Pierce): Political Science professor pushes for UN Sustainable Council [read]

2012-05-22, UN Department of Public Information, News and Media Division: Concerned at pace of Rio+20 negotiations, secretary-general calls for bald action, ‘for the sake of our planet and our children’, at assembly thematic debate [read]

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