Frank Biermann on the Earth System Governance’s Initiative on International Environmental Governance

Ruben Zondervan • Jul 19th, 2011
Frank Biermann on the Earth System Governance’s Initiative on International Environmental Governance

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.

Tags: Earth System Governance Project,fragmentation,Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development,science-policy interface,United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992,United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit)
Note: Comments will be visible only after approval

Targeting Sustainability Objectives for 2012

With the perspective of looking ahead for 2012, what specific global sustainability factors are you looking to go after with such a fragmented UN on environmental issues?  What can you hope to achieve?  As a small business in America, I've seen first hand what sustainability efforts can do.  From my business doing CPR training in Dallas, I'm witnessing the country's drive toward conservationism and lessening its carbon footprint.  I guess my question is - why can't we focus on leadership countries individually first before trying to push through universal law?  My my view, leadership countries have the power to innovate and streamline the technology.  Eventually it gets outsourced and adopted by smaller, poorer countries.  Thoughts?

An interesting perspective on

An interesting perspective on the earth system governance's initiative on International environmental governance. A good read. 

Stumbled across this while

Stumbled across this while searching for something completely different, but I'm glad I did, very interesting perspective.


Full Interview Available

The above 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 two parts in July 2011 and August 2011. The first part of the interview is available at The second part will be available online soon, but a pdf can be requested by sending an email to ipo [at] 

Water care and the Nature of Life

4 billion years to create Life and photosynthesis  is this worth care for...

First please forgive mine being very schematics in the aim of coming from micro to macro and then global.

Allow me use " simplification " as in mathematics when we consider all people already are aware of most of the subjects.

As practical introduction and start with basic and simple reactivity let's call to all citizens living in houses to get a cistern to collect rain water in order to start  learn cooperate with the Nature.

People could always be reminded that they can separate organics garbages to use them for the culture of their gardens and give back to the Earth Kernels and seeds from the fruits and vegetables.

This is a micro level and a humble step.

At a macro level : let's remind that great kings of the antique world as Cyrus in Persia used their armies to irrigate ; build bridge and organise Nature for Economy. 

Using the Bruntland Principles and adding to them the respect of Technologies for a respectful world each country might set up an " organising Nature " program in order to provide work and set up a cooperation between nature and the society. The aims can be to improve everyday life as well as prevent disasters or build passive homes.

Companies might try to think about their waste in terms of  the functionning of Vegetals who invert their productions from Oxygen to Carbon and vice versa. Thus process for low carbon may occur. At the same time packaging reducing or recycling systems might be set up.

This means also a new thinking on what  work has for purpose  ;  what prices for which works ; what a

" money " should be defined as  : all those In a sense of making exchanges easy.

At a global level : in 2011 homeless and jobless are words we could start  erase of the dictionnary.