Largest ever Earth System Governance Conference hosted at Utrecht University

In November 2018 over 400 researchers descended on Utrecht from all over the world for the largest yet Earth System Governance Conference. Held in historic buildings and churches all over the city, the conference marked the launch of the research community’s new Science and Implementation Plan, a handover to a new leadership team, and the welcoming of the International Project Office to Utrecht University.

Setting the scene for the conference,  keynote speaker Professor Joseph Alcamo, Director of Sussex Sustainability Research Programme and former Chief Scientist of UN Environment, asked the audience in Utrecht’s Domkerk “Have you ever seen a more daunting time for global thinking? Cancelled treaties, neglected obligations, frozen negotiations. Brexit, nationalism, isolationism”. It is no easy task ahead for earth system governance research and practice.

Have you ever seen a more daunting time for global thinking? Cancelled treaties, neglected obligations, frozen negotiations. Brexit, nationalism, isolationism.

Largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change

The Earth System Governance research alliance has a crucial role to play in addressing these global and political challenges of the pressing problems of earth system transformation. As it stands, it is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change, originally founded by Utrecht University's Professor Frank Biermann.

The network explores political solutions and novel, more effective governance mechanisms to cope with the current transitions in the socio-ecological systems of the planet. The normative context of its research is sustainable development; the research alliance not only studies questions of institutional effectiveness but also of political legitimacy and social justice.

‘Governing global sustainability in a complex world’

The 2018 Utrecht Conference was dedicated to ‘governing global sustainability in a complex world’. It focused on harvesting and showcasing the Earth System Governance community’s many findings over the last decade during more than 90 panels and a large number of special taskforce activities, workshops and meetings. This helped to provide a holistic picture of what has been done, what is currently being done, along with a bold outlook into the future challenges in earth system governance research.

Earth System Governance Lead Faculty member and Utrecht University Professor Harriet Bulkeley talks about what she looks forward to at the conference and her role within the Earth System Governance community.

With participants from all over the world and activities over four days, there was the opportunity to meet in different formats and settings including plenaries and semi-plenaries, parallel sessions, innovative panels and a full Taskforce Day to advance collaborative projects. The conference was not only about work - there were plenty of moments for networking and socialising. This included a wonderful conference dinner among the trains at Utrecht’s Railway Museum, and a Research Fellows party at one of Utrecht’s foremost independent music venues.

Conference preceded by winter school for early career researchers

The conference was immediately preceded by the Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance, led by Utrecht University's Rakhyun Kim, Joost Vervoort and Charlotte Ballard, which brought together the next generation of Earth System Governance researchers to explore the new Science and Implementation Plan.

The opening plenary in Utrecht's Dom Church

It has been especially rewarding to collaborate with so many talented people both in the organisation of this conference and more broadly as part of the Earth System Governance research alliance. It is a privilege to be among such a dedicated, energising and collegial group of scholars.

Conference Co-chair and Associate Professor of Transnational Sustainability Governance
Dr. Agni Kalfagianni

Utrecht Professor Frank Biermann stepping down as leader of Earth System Governance research alliance

After more than ten years at the helm, Professor Frank Biermann of Utrecht, founding chair of the Earth System Governance research alliance, handed over leadership of the network to a diverse new group of eleven academics, representing five continents and all related disciplines and areas of expertise. Upon Biermann’s initiative, the Earth System Governance International Project Office will be hosted at Utrecht University from January 2019 onwards, relocating after eight years at Lund University in Sweden.


Launch of New Science and Implementation Plan

With the launch of its new Science and Implementation Plan, the Earth System Governance research alliance aims to spur its global community on to new research questions and new ways for researchers to engage with society at this crucial time. In order to do this, new research will explore themes of Architecture & Agency, Democracy & Power, Anticipation & Imagination, Justice & Allocation and Adaptiveness & Reflexivity.

The development of the new Science and Implementation Plan was led by five female Lead Authors, including Dr. Agni Kalfagianni of Utrecht University.


Managing Editor Elizabeth Dirth launching the Earth System Governance Journal

Launch of The Earth System Governance Journal

The conference also saw the launch of the open access Earth System Governance journal, published by Elsevier. An interdisciplinary journal with a firm grounding in the social sciences and humanities, it addresses governance processes and institutions at all levels of decision-making – from local to global – within a planetary perspective that seeks to align our current institutions and governance systems with the fundamental 21st century challenges of global environmental change and earth-system transformation. Frank Biermann serves as founding Editor-in-Chief, with Elizabeth Dirth as Managing Editor

Conference not possible without support of Utrecht University staff and students

The conference was co-chaired by Utrecht’s Professor Frank Biermann and Associate Professor Agni Kalfagianni, with PhD researcher Sandra van der Hel serving as conference manager and MSc Sustainable Development students Tom Peek and Gustav Thungren as assistant conference managers. Their work were supported by the hard work of 35 student volunteers from Utrecht University. 

The 2019 Conference on Earth System Governance will be held from 6 – 8 November 2019 in Oaxaca, Mexico. The conference will be hosted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.