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Research Centre Utrecht

The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development is a world-leading research centre for sustainability research and teaching, based at the Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. In 2014, the most recent international evaluation of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences in the Netherlands ranked the Copernicus Institute as the best research centre in its field in the Netherlands. The Institute hosts numerous fellows, senior fellows and lead faculty members of the Earth System Governance Project.

The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development is part of Utrecht University. Utrecht University was founded in 1636 and has developed since then into an esteemed international research university that is consistently ranked as being among the top-15 research universities in continental Europe. Utrecht is a member of the renowned League of European Research Universities (which includes also Oxford, Cambridge, Lund University, and others). In the 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities, Utrecht University was ranked first among the Dutch universities and 56th globally.

Utrecht University has recently decided to re-structure its activities around four core Strategic Themes, two of which are of central relevance to the Earth System Governance Science and Implementation Plan: “Sustainability” and “Institutions for Open Societies”. The Sustainabilityresearch theme aims to better understand the earth system and to develop integral solutions for sustainability issues, providing knowledge to contribute to a better future for next generations. It is divided in three sub-themes: Water, Climate and Ecosystems; Healthy Urban Living; and Future Energy and Resources. The Institutions for Open Societies research theme is built around five interrelated research themes, which represent the cornerstones of open and sustainable societies, and which are all relevant for collaboration within the Earth System Governance alliance. These include: Cooperation, Self-regulation and Collective Action; Sustainability and Resilience; Innovation and Economic Growth; Equality, Inclusion and Social Mobility; and Democratic Governance, Citizenship and Trust. This strategic orientation makes Utrecht University a natural partner for the future ambitious agenda of the Earth System Governance research alliance.

At the Copernicus Institute, most research on earth system governance is carried out by the Environmental Governance group. However, given the interdisciplinary character of most research at the Institute, the Environmental Governance team maintains close links to all other groups and individuals in the Institute. For example, the Environmental Sciences group has a strong research line on integrated models of global environmental change, which include increasingly factors of social systems. Also the Innovation Studies group has increasing research lines that address the role of governance in transition and innovation processes. Finally, the Energy and Resources group investigates as well the governance-related questions of energy and resource management.

Within the Environmental Governance group, the Copernicus Institute has developed a successful research programme that focusses explicitly on ‘governance’, defined as a process of interaction between public and/or private actors ultimately aiming at the realization of collective goals. In this field, the Copernicus Institute contributes to the international scholarly and political debates by analysing, explaining and evaluating modes of governance and by formulating recommendations about interventions that have the potential to make governance outcomes more congruent with sustainability goals. The research is based on both empirical-analytical approaches (retrospective and explanatory) and normative approaches (prescriptive and design-oriented).

In 2015, this broader programme has been further strengthened by the recruitment of Professor Biermann, Professor Maarten Hajer, Dr Agni Kalfagianni and several of their PhD students, further strengthening the strong profile of Utrecht University in transdisciplinary sustainability studies. In 2016, four more assistant professors have been hired in the field of global and regional environmental governance, creating at Utrecht one of the largest concentrations of policy scientists on sustainability issues in the Netherlands.