Tag Archives: earth system governance

A Moratorium on Geoengineering? Really?

In the end of October 2010, participants in the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) included in their agreement to protect biodiversity , a moratorium on geo­engineering. This CBD moratorium came timely as the debate around geoengineering virtually exploded internationally with several high-profile reports being published by, amongst others, the British Royal Society, and the U.S. Congress. The IPCC has announced it will organize several expert meetings in 2011 to focus on geoengineering, to help prepare the next review of climate science, due for completion in 2014. 

But what does this “moratorium” really imply? This is not a trivial question considering the often acclaimed fragmentation of global environmental governance, and the fact that most geoengineering schemes would have impacts on additional planetary boundaries such as land use change and biodiversity. Two main (and highly simplified of course) interpretations seem to exist in a quite complicated legal debate.

One is that the CBD moratorium places a considerable limit on geoengineering experimentation and attempts. The only exception are “small-scale” controlled experiments that meet specific requirements, i.e.: that they are assumed in controlled settings and for explicit scientific purposes, are subject to prior environmental impact assessment, and have no impacts beyond national jurisdiction. Proponents of this position note that even if the CBD moratorium is not legally binding, governments launching large geoengineering experiments would “risk their credibility and diplomatic reputations”, a strong enough disincentive that effectively “blocks risky climate techno-fixes”. The Canadian NGO ETC Group elaborates this point here.

The second position instead highlights several points that undermine the strenght of the CBD moratorium. The first is that the agreement has no legally binding power, and that formal sanctioning mechanisms are absent. The CBD moratorium is “soft law” which implies that States  still could launch geoengineering schemes unilaterally. Note also that the United States has not formally ratified the CBD convention.

Second, even though the CBD moratorium might be seen as defining an upper limit on the scale of geoengineering experiments, key definitional questions remain to be teased out. What is to be defined as “small-scale” and  “experiment”? And what is its status compared to other related pieces of international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the London Convention, and the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, just to mention a few.

Third, as the US Congressional Research Service notes in its report, international agreements are best equipped to deal with disputes between countries, and not necessarily between one country and one private actor, or between private actors that may shift locations to suit their interests (pp. 29). And major private or semi-private actors and funders are out there, including the Bill Gates and Richard Branson $4.6 million Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Resources, Ice911, Intellectual Ventures (see WJS article “Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose”), Carbon Engineeering, Planktos Foundation, and GreenSea Ventures (featured in Nature here).

So, do we really have a real, effective global moratorium on geoengineering? Far from it it seems. Feel free to disagree in the comment field below.

Resilience 2011: Special panel on Adaptiveness in Earth System Governance

via Earth System Governance Facebook-group

The Earth System Governance Project will convene a special panel on Adaptiveness in Earth System Governance at the Resilience Conference 2011. Adaptiveness is one of the five analytical themes of the IHDP Earth System Governance Project. The project understands it as an umbrella term for a set of strongly related concepts—vulnerability, resilience, adaptation, robustness, adaptive capacity, social learning and so on. Each of them alone is too limited to describe changes made by social groups in response to, or in anticipation of, challenges created through environmental change. Within the framework of earth system governance, the term adaptiveness includes the governance of adaptation to social-ecological change as well as the processes of change and adaptation within governance systems. Adaptation can create winners and losers, by, for instance, shifting the distribution of benefits, of involuntary risks, or of power.

Panellists will include:

Victor Galaz, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
Lennart Olsson, Lund University, Sweden
Diana Liverman, University of Arizona, United States
Kathleen Galvin, Colorado State University, United States
Louis Lebel, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

More info here.

Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy “Strengthening Institutions to Address Climate Change and Advance a Green Economy”

17-09-2010 – 19-09-2010 New Haven, United States of America

The 2nd UNITAR-Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy: Strengthening Institutions to Address Climate Change and Advance a Green Economy, 17-19 September 2010, Yale University is the second event in a Conference series on the interface of democracy and environment organized by UNITAR and Yale University. About 150 scholars and policy-makers from countries and organizations around the world will take stock of, and examine the role of institutional structures and decision-making procedures in fostering (or impeding) low carbon and climate resilient development and advancing a green economy. For more information, see here.

The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences

Twitter|@vgalaz
This is one of those important things that seldom make the headlines. While climate change science has received considerable public attention, especially since the controversies around the IPCC scientific assessments, another fact is seldom, if ever, acknowledged – that  a number of international global change programmes are reorganizing to better match the increasing need for policy-relevant, integrated sustainability science.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) as an example, has been reorganizing its work the last years, to better integrate the natural and social sciences and acknowledge the non-linear features of global change. This integration is to be developed by a range of ESSP associated research programmes and projects, including (prepare for an alphabet soup….) DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, GWSP , GECHH, START and MAIRS. This paper lays out the thinking behind the ongoing reorganization.

One important change under the ESSP, and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, is the reorganization of the previous programme Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC, lead by the international institutions legend Oran Young), into a new initiative: the Earth System Governance Project (ESG). The ESG, lead by Frank Biermann in Amsterdam, aims to study the role of multilevel governance, institutions and actor-networks in dealing with global environmental change, and includes several international research centres.

In addition, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations University, is launching a new international initiative based on the insights and framework provided by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS). PECS ambition is to address the following question: ‘how do policies and practices affect resilience of the portfolio of ecosystem services that support human well-being and allow for adaptation to a changing environment?’. PECS will provide scientific knowledge to the newly launched “IPCC-like” Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An article published in PNAS in 2009, lays out the thinking behind the PECS programme.

So, if you ever get the question “where are the scientists that will help save the world”, the answer is easy: it’s ESSP, PECS, DIVERSITAS, ICSU, IPBES, ESG, IHDP, IGBP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, ….

Transparency in Global Environmental Governance

Those interested in issues related to transparency and accountability in global environmental governance, should have a look at the latest special issue of Global Environmental Politics. Contributors include Aarti Gupta, Michael Mason, Klaus Dingwerth, Margot Eichinger and others. For a full list of contents, see here.


The Crises of Nature, The Nature of Crises

by Victor Galaz

Maybe it’s just part of my personal PCSD (Post Copenhagen Stress Disorder), but it seems like one of the most interesting topics emerging in frontiers of the earth system governance agenda, is that of building global institutions able to deal with not only incremental environmental change (e.g. biodiversity loss, land use change, climate change), but also crises.

Crises events (i.e. unexpected, high uncertainty, cascading dynamics, limited time to act) pose from an institutional point of view, quite different challenges than those normally addressed by the global environmental governance research community. These are related to the need for early warnings, multilevel networked responses, and improvisation. In addition, crises forces us to reconsider the way we look at communication technologies in global environmental governance [e.g. “Pandemic 2.0” in Environment here].

Oran Young’s brief talk from 2008 on adaptiveness and environmental crises, is not about environmental regimes in the conventional sense, but rather about the importance of role plays, simulations, and deliberations around unlikely, but high impact, scenarios:

The Center on International Cooperation (New York University) in addition, just recently launched a report entitled “Confronting the Long-term Crisis – Risk, Resilience and International Order”, that pretty much reiterates the point that debates around global governance are moving towards an agenda that focus not only single global environmental stresses, but also on multiple, interacting social-ecological ones. This issue was also raised by Brian Walker and colleagues in Science last year, and you can watch an interview with him here.

* I owe the catchy title to my colleague Fredrik Moberg at Albaeco.

VIII. You say “transition”, I say “transformation”…

The need to support transitions, or transformations, towards sustainability has become one of the hottest topics amongst sustainability scientists the last years. A range of theoretical approaches deal with different aspects of transformational system change, including scholars of “transition management” and “resilience theory”. These communities have worked separately for decades, but seem too be converging. But, what is the difference between “transitions” and “transformations”? Really?

Listen to Dr. Derk Loorbach from the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (Drift, Erasmus University Rotterdam), as he explores what he sees as the main similarities and differences between the two schools. Listen also to Dr. Per Olsson at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University), as he responds to Derk’s observations.

Interview with Dr Derk Loorbach [external link]. What is “transition management”, and how is that different from “transformations”? And which policy interventions support transitions?

Interview with Per Olsson by Eric Paglia at Think Globally Radio. What is a “transformation” in a social-ecological system? How is it different from “transition management” approaches? And how can transformations be supported?