The Policy Assessment on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

Ruben Zondervan • May 20th, 2011
The Policy Assessment on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development


The Earth System Governance 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 provides 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”. 

The Earth System Governance Project, while being essentially a scientific effort, is also designed to assist policy responses to the pressing problems of earth system transformation. The Project, along with its numerous collaborating institutions and its global network of researchers, is eminently placed to play a leading role in the science-policy interface in the current debate on International Environmental Governance and the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development. The policy assessment will therefore be a major effort by the Earth System Governance Project to contribute to these discussions.

Aim of the policy-assessment is to provide a condensed, policy-relevant summary of relevant social science findings, and to make strong, science-based policy recommendations to strengthen the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development. It brings together the various strands of research and schools of thought. However, if there is persistent disagreement in the academic community on certain questions, the document states so.


Mid-April, after receiving the mandate for the policy assessment, the Project has invited a select international group of about 40 leading senior governance experts from all over the world as authors to this assessment [list of authors]. Based on their area of expertise, individual authors or teams of authors have been assigned one or more of the clearly defined, policy-relevant questions. The authors have been asked to answer these questions with a statement on what the state-of-art in social science research on this question is. All statements had to be very short and written in precise, accessible language, with limited jargon and had to be of high political relevance.

The strict word-limits and style-requirements posed a challenge for the authors. Not at least due to this, a lively and interesting (email) discussion between the authors and various sub-groups of authors developed during the three weeks available for the authors to write the statements. These discussions helped to improve the quality and precision of the answers and to sharpen the formulation of the questions.

Based on the statements as initial text elements and the discussions, a first consolidated draft has been compiled and circulated among the authors in early May 2011. This first draft then has been discussed in detail at various occasions during the 2011 Colorado Conference on Earth System Governance:

- First, the draft and the next steps in the process have been discussed by the Earth System Governance Scientific Steering Committee at its meeting on 17 May 2011. 

- Second, a meeting with 18 of the authors who were present at the conference resulted in substantial improvements of the structure and language of the draft and was helpful in determining the character and scope of the concrete policy recommendations of the policy-assessment. 

- Third, consultations have been held with diplomats and bureaucrats involved with the Rio+20 conference processes. These consultations reconfirmed the high demand for this policy assessment and helped to synchronize the content of the assessment with the specific questions of policy makers to social sciences.

- Fourth, several authors and most conference participants participated in a “World Café” on “A structural reform of the institutional framework for sustainable development”. Ideas from this World Café session have been valuable additional input to the process.

Based on these various inputs, the text has been further shortened, its coherence has been strengthened, and the key policy-relevant messages highlighted.  Also, narrative and language have been streamlined resulting in a powerful and convincing second draft. This second draft has been circulated to all authors early June for comments. A revision reflecting the comments on the second draft resulted in a third consolidated draft that has been circulated also beyond the group of authors to for example key policy-makers, the Science Committees of the four Global Change Research Programmes, and others. Comments made on this website will be taken into account until the last moment as well. In addition, professional science writers have edited the text and provided the graphic design of the polcy brief.

The Policy Brief has been released late September 2011 and will be formally published as a policy document at the Planet under Pressure Conference, to be held 26-29 March 2012 in London. [policy brief

Publication and Dissemination

In addition to the short and condensed policy brief, a longer version of the assessment, including footnotes and references will be published at a later stage. As a matter of fact, the assessment and various background documents will also be made available at this website – and as an Earth System Governance Working Paper.

The policy brief will be presented at various occasions like the intergovernmental preparatory meetings for the Rio+20 Conference and the series of regional consultations by ICSU. Many authors, in particular the assessment’s lead-author Prof. Frank Biermann, and the assessment managers, will present the policy assessments and its policy recommendations at a number of scientific and political events. All confirmed dates and venues will be listed at this website.

Further information and Questions

This page will be updated frequently. Follow progress of the policy assessment also on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.

For questions and further information regarding the policy assessment, please do not hesitate to contact the assessment managers Andrea Brock, VU University  Amsterdam ( or Ruben Zondervan, Earth System Governance International Project Office (

Tags: Earth System Governance Project,global change research,Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development,Policy Assessment on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development,United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit)
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Presentations related to the policy assessment

- World Leadership Conference 2011 (Asia + Pacific towards Rio + 20), 13-15 July 2011, Singapore ( (Ruben Zondervan)

ICSU-UNESCO Europe regional workshop, 11-13 October 2011, Helsinki ( (Karin Bäckstrand)