This is an extract from a longer interview with Frank Biermann on recent developments in the environmental change research area that has been published with International Innovations in July 2011.
Find the complete interview here
Could you discuss the Earth System Governance Project’s new major science and science-policy initiative entitled ‘International Environmental Governance’?
The term ‘International Environmental Governance’ refers to the efforts by UNEP and other to support a coherent structure of international governance on environmental issues. The Earth System Governance Project, along with its numerous collaborating institutions and its global network, is eminently placed to play a leading role in the science-policy interface in the current debate on International Environmental Governance. Our new initiative will compile an easy accessible and structured knowledge base on International Environmental Governance and will solicit advice and comments from the global research communities, stakeholders, and policy makers leading to a lively science based but solution oriented discussion. We will synthesize this initiative in a variety of ways, including policy briefs, presentations, and direct advice to decision makers. In addition, this initiative will support the numerous leading Earth System Governance researchers who are currently serving as appointed members on the UNEP Major Group and Stakeholders Advisory Group on International Environmental Governance, UNEP's fifth Global Environmental Outlook, and the High-Level Expert Panel in the United Nations Environment Programme new Foresight Process initiative.
Why is it an important topic for next year’s Rio+20 Earth Summit?
Discussions on International Environmental Governance are not new. Within the UN System, environmental governance however is still characterised by its high degree of fragmentation and contested efficiency and legitimacy. Under the title “Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development”, this discussion is currently gaining new and very strong momentum in research and politics as one of two themes of next year’s Rio +20 Earth Summit. The first Rio Conference in 1992 resulted in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Agenda 21. These documents have been shaping many policies since then. The Earth Summit next year is the venue where the necessary current day changes in environmental governance could be initiated. Likely, it is the only window of opportunity for these changes for many years to come. Hopes are high but there are many sceptic voices and huge challenges lie ahead. The Earth System Governance Project will make plenty efforts to contribute to the success of this.
Recently, the project has been mandated by the four global environmental change research programmes as organisers of the 2012 conference “Planet under Pressure”, to compile a fast-track policy-relevant assessment of the state of research on the institutional framework for sustainable development. This assessment shall provide the lead input of the scientific community to the international policy process leading to the “Rio+20” Conference’s theme of “institutional framework for sustainable development”. For this, we have invited a select international group of about 40 senior governance experts from all over the world as authors to this assessment that will be organised around the analytical problems identified in the Science and Implementation Plan of the Earth System Governance Project. These are the problems of the overall architecture of earth system governance, of agency beyond the state and of the state, of the adaptiveness of governance mechanisms and processes, of their accountability and legitimacy and of modes of allocation and access in earth system governance. Within each analytical problem, we have identified a number of clearly defined, policy-relevant questions to which a precise statement of what the research of our community in the last years has contributed to answer that question will be provided. All will be written in highly accessible language, with limited jargon and of high political relevance.
What targets do you have for this initiative?
The initiative on International Environmental Governance in general and the policy assessment on “Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development” will, so our aim, provide researchers on earth system governance, and the broader global change research community, with a comprehensive overview on the state of research on International Environmental Governance. This knowledge will also contribute to all five analytical problems that guide the research of the Earth System Governance Project and thus to bringing answers to the core questions of earth system governance closer. We also hope for a lively discussion, online and offline, between scientist and between scientists and other stakeholders. And, obviously, the initiative is first and foremost designed to target decision makers and to contribute to not just a better understanding but also to actual improvements in international environmental governance towards an institutional framework that enables sustainable development.
Frank Biermann is Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, VU University Amsterdam; Visiting Professor of Earth System Governance at Lund University; Director-General of the Netherlands Research School for Socio-economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment, and Chair of the Earth System Governance Project.