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The Grand Challenge of Earth System Governance

Despite all efforts, current policies still seem insufficient to halt global environmental change and earth system transformation. Also, the scientific knowledge on global environmental change falls short and requires major renewed efforts. In particular, the integration of scientific knowledge suffers from widespread fragmentation across disciplines, methodologies, professional cultures, scales of analysis, and even languages.

To address this, the International Council for Science (ICSU) initiated an initiative to mobilise the global change research community around a limited number of ‘Grand Challenges’, as outlined in the ICSU report Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: The Grand Challenges. This ICSU report draws on an international consultative process and shall stimulate innovative new research, help prioritise research topics, and inform potential users of research findings.

In response to this process, Frank Biermann (chair, Earth System Governance Project) and Ruben Zondervan (executive director, Earth System Governance Project) have written a report with the title ‘The Grand Challenge of Earth System Governance‘ that reflects on the ICSU Grand Challenges from the perspective of the Earth System Governance Project. In the report, they sketch the interlinkages, parallels, and crosscutting themes between the ICSU Grand Challenges and the science agenda of the Earth System Governance Project and conclude that the Grand Challenges resonate well with the Earth System Governance Project. The Project contributes research findings on numerous questions raised under the Grand Challenges. In particular to the entire spectrum of questions developed under Grand Challenge 4 on Responding: ‘Determine what institutional, economic and behavioural changes can enable effective steps toward global sustainability’.

For questions and comments on this report, please contact the Earth System Governance International Project Office: ipo [at]

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