Earth System Governance

Earth System Governance: World Politics in the Anthropocene

Frank Biermann
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  • Book Info
    Earth System Governance
    Book Description:

    Humans are no longer spectators who need to adapt to their natural environment. Our impact on the earth has caused changes that are outside the range of natural variability and are equivalent to such major geological disruptions as ice ages. Some scientists argue that we have entered a new epoch in planetary history: the Anthropocene. In such an era of planet-wide transformation, we need a new model for planet-wide environmental politics. In this book, Frank Biermann proposes "earth system" governance as just such a new paradigm.Biermann offers both analytical and normative perspectives. He provides detailed analysis of global environmental politics in terms of five dimensions of effective governance: agency, particularly agency beyond that of state actors; architecture of governance, from local to global levels; accountability and legitimacy; equitable allocation of resources; and adaptiveness of governance systems. Biermann goes on to offer a wide range of policy proposals for future environmental governance and a revitalized United Nations, including the establishment of a World Environment Organization and a UN Sustainable Development Council, new mechanisms for strengthened representation of civil society and scientists in global decision making, innovative systems of qualified majority voting in multilateral negotiations, and novel institutions to protect those impacted by global change. Drawing on ten years of research, Biermann formulates earth system governance as an empirical reality and a political necessity.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32292-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    Humans now influence all biological and physical systems of the planet. Almost no species, land area, or part of the oceans has remained unaffected by the expansion of the human species. Recent scientific findings suggest that the entire earth system now operates outside the normal state exhibited over at least the past 500,000 years. Yet at the same time, it is apparent that the institutions, organizations, and mechanisms by which humans govern their relationship with the natural environment and global biogeochemical systems are utterly insufficient—and poorly understood. More fundamental and applied research is needed.

    Such research is no easy...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. A Word on the Poems
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  7. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Humans have altered their environment since prehistoric times. Today we have begun to transform our planet. Humankind has become a planetary force that influences global biogeochemical systems. Humans are no longer spectators who need to adapt to the natural environment; we have become a powerful agent of earth system evolution. The Amsterdam Declaration “Challenges of a Changing Earth,” adopted in 2001 by a coalition of international research programs, concluded that human impacts on the earth’s land surface, the oceans, the atmosphere, biological diversity, the water cycle, and biogeochemical cycles “are clearly identifiable beyond natural variability” and are “equal to some...

  8. 2 Conceptualization
    (pp. 15-45)

    “Long before /We swooped on oil, iron and ammonia / There was each year / A time of irresistible violent leafing of trees,” wrote Bertolt Brecht almost one hundred years ago, and continued: “High above, it is true /There seem to be storms: / All they touch now is / Our aerials.” This poetic line of 1928 captures well the emergence as well as the current political challenge of the Anthropocene. The storms are maybe not yet raging, but fundamental transformations of planetary systems are predicted by science if no action is taken—not the least a rapid withdrawal from...

  9. 3 Agency
    (pp. 47-79)

    The myth of Prometheus marks the beginning of the Anthropocene. Prometheus brought the secret of fire to early humans, thus launching the perpetual process of fossil-fuel-based industrialization and modern civilization. Prometheus was hence one of the first, and most powerful, agents in anthropogenic Earth system transformation. Earth system governance—the collective attempt at bringing our societal development paths in line with the exigencies of earth system boundaries—enlists many more agents today. Agents in earth system governance range from governments to science networks, environmentalists, industry associations, faith-based organizations, farmer unions, and intergovernmental organizations, to name just a few.

    Agents are...

  10. 4 Architecture
    (pp. 81-119)

    Institutions do not operate in a void. They interact, can be in conflict with each other, and are usually embedded in clusters with other institutions in complex webs of rules and claims to authority. This overall institutional arrangement within an issue area I describe in this book asgovernance architecture.

    The study of architecture is fundamental to all other dimensions of earth system governance. Architecture describes the framework in which agents shape processes of earth system governance (chapter 3). It sets the rules for the accountability of those who govern toward those who are governed (chapter 5), defines the context...

  11. 5 Accountability and Legitimacy
    (pp. 121-143)

    Earth system governance is not only a question of institutional performance and effectiveness; the accountability and legitimacy of decision making is equally important. This relates to all levels of governance, from the local to the global. It involves the accountability and legitimacy of public regulation, but also of novel types of private governance arrangements within and beyond the state. In the twentieth century, legitimacy and accountability were mainly concerns of national governments and their decisions. In the twenty-first century, with its emerging trends of governance beyond the state, we must consider the challenge of securing accountability and legitimacy in a...

  12. 6 Allocation
    (pp. 145-173)

    When astronauts first photographed the earth from the moon and created the powerful imaginary of our “blue planet,” their picture suggested a common destiny of the human race with a common interest and purpose. Yet the human species, as main driving force of the Anthropocene, is in itself profoundly divided in wealth, health, living standards, education, and most other indicators that define well-being.

    According to the World Bank (2008, 4), the richest 20 percent of humanity accounts for 76.6 percent of world private consumption (purchasing power parity, in US$). The poorest 20 percent, for their part, account for just 1.5...

  13. 7 Adaptiveness
    (pp. 175-201)

    Four hundred, five hundred, or even higher—such data for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, expressed in parts per million, might well define the future of our societies in the second half of this century. The widely cited paper by Johan Rockström and colleagues (2009) suggested as a safe level for atmospheric carbon dioxide a maximum concentration of 350 parts per million. Yet this limit was crossed some decades ago. Other earth system boundaries are also close to being violated, taking into account potential negative feedback loops in the system. Under such circumstances, what are the prospects that earth system governance...

  14. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 203-214)

    “Bishop, I can fly,” claims the Tailor in the poem that opens this chapter, “Just watch me try!” “A man is not a bird / No man will ever fly,” responds the Bishop, adding that what the Tailor claims is “nothing but a lie.” This exchange between the Bishop and the Tailor in the mediaeval city of Ulm evokes current discussions on the feasibility of effective earth system governance. Today, too, it seems that there are too many bishops and too few tailors. Too few people who believe that, yes indeed, with imagination and courage, we can take off—to...

  15. References
    (pp. 215-260)
  16. Index
    (pp. 261-268)