Current Research Projects
My main research programme at present analyses the steering effects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In this GlobalGoals Project, which is funded by a €2.5 million personal "Advanced Grant" from the European Research Council, a team of eleven faculty members, postdocs and doctoral students and many global collaborators investigate whether, to what extent, and why (not), the SDGs had any political effects so far. Our research findings and numerous sub-projects, including publications in Science and Nature and a book with Cambridge University Press, are presented here.
In addition, I continue to work with the Earth System Governance Project, a long-term international research programme that I founded in 2008 and which I chaired from 2008-2018. The Earth System Governance Project brings together over 300 research fellows and 50 lead faculty members; a global series of annual open science conferences, with events in Amsterdam (2007, 2009), Colorado (2011), Lund (2012 and 2017), Tokyo (2013), Norwich (2014), Canberra (2015), Nairobi (2016), Utrecht (2018), Oaxaca (2019), Bratislava (2021), and Toronto (2022); a global alliance of Earth System Governance Research Centres; a global network of taskforces, affiliated projects, and smaller events; and a network of social media outlets, internet fora and affiliated publication series, including with MIT Press and Cambridge University Press. See here for more information. Our review of the first ten years of the Earth System Governance Project has been published here (open access).
With Rakhyun E. Kim, I organised the synthesis of the 10-year research programme on "global governance architectures" as part of the global Earth System Governance Project. Our main findings, with 43 collaborators, are published in a book with Cambridge University Press, Architectures of Earth System Governance: Institutional Complexity and Structural Transformation (2020).
Earth system transformations pose new challenges of planetary justice. With Carole-Anne Sénit, I am working on a project on the marginalization of the global poor and the least developed countries in global change science, civil society and global governance. With Agni Kalfagianni, I have worked on new conceptualizations of planetary justice, which are part of the Planetary Justice taskforce within the Earth System Governance Project that Agni and I have set up in 2019.
With Eva Lövbrand of Linköping University and many others, I have finalised in 2019 a project on the impacts of the new “Anthropocene Paradigm” especially in the field of political science. Our research team critically analyzed how the Anthropocene concept and its proposed ‘end of nature’ has been interpreted, figured and narrated across discursive domains; how the proposition that nature has ended may reconfigure the theory and practice of environmental politics; and what consequences the Anthropocene concept has for the academic field and practice of political science. The results have been published with Cambridge University Press in 2019; see here for more information. The Anthropocene also requires new types of deep-time institutions. With Frederic Hanusch, I have published a first article on "deep-time organizations", which can be downloaded here.
I increasingly fear that the slow pace of global climate policies will lead to dangerous calls for reckless "climate engineering" or "geoengineering". My research links here the debate on geoengineering with considerations of planetary justice, in particular the role of the Global South and the impacts on the global poor. In an article with Ina Möller - "Rich man’s solution? Climate engineering discourses and the marginalization of the Global South" (open access here) - we thus analyze the role of developing countries, and in particular least developed countries, in global debates on geoengineering.
In 2021, I developed with colleagues the rationale for an International Non-Use Agreement on Solar Geoengineering; in January 2022, we launched an Open Letter in support of such a non-use agreement, which has been signed by 450 scientists from 61 countries and endorsed by over 1900 civil society organizations (as of Oct. 2023). I have presented this proposal to various governments in Europe and Africa, and was interviewed by numerous media. More information on the initiative for an International Non-Use Agreement on Solar Geoengineering is here.
The following project descriptions are automatically generated and report only externally funded projects:
International environmental treaties (e.g., Paris Agreement) are designed to solve specific environmental problems. Yet their potentially negative impact on environmental issues other than their own is rarely studied. Until now global governance theories have assumed that environmental treaties are inherently ‘green’, and hence, any adverse consequences are conveniently set aside as unintended or inevitable. But is that true? Here we question, do environmental treaties ever pursue their objectives by merely shifting problems to others? If so, when and why? Does such buck-passing create any systemic risk beyond those directly affected? And what might be appropriate responses to ensure our efforts add up to a net positive impact? Environmental problem-shifting, or protecting one part of the environment by damaging another, is a major dilemma arising in global governance. Yet the issue remains under-investigated, requiring an urgent scientific inquiry. This project will thus examine the causes and consequences of, and provide solutions to, environmental problem-shifting between international environmental treaty regimes. By drawing on our interdisciplinary and multi-method expertise in ‘earth system’ law and governance, we will (1) identify and explain the conditions under which problem-shifting occurs; (2) assess and predict the systemic effects of problem-shifting; and (3) offer solutions for optimizing the currently fragmented governance system. The project aims to advance the theoretical debate on the architecture of global governance and its overall effectiveness. The scientific breakthrough will be enabled through methodologically innovative combinations of qualitative and quantitative methods, including process tracing, comparative case studies, network analysis, system dynamics modelling, and multi-stakeholder workshops. Building on the theoretical and empirical foundations, we will offer unique insights and valuable advice to markedly improve global governance decisions.
For more information, visit the project website (problemshifting.org).
Despite only 10 years remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda, no country is on track to meet all 17 SDGs. Countries are also far behind in achieving the transition towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient society as envisioned in the Paris Agreement. Importantly, growing evidence demonstrates that climate action necessitates a transition addressing all dimensions of sustainability. Our research in the planning grant phase confirmed that distributional consequences of both climate action and climate change clearly point to the potential goal conflicts and/or untapped synergies between SDG 13 “C limate action” and SDG 10 “Reduced inequalities”, but comparative evidence is limited on these linkages. The aim of this project is to analyse the conditions for, and politics of, coherent policies for climate change, reducing inequality and other SDGs when implemented nationally, and to provide tools to identify synergies and make transparent trade-offs in different socio-economic and political contexts. Six country cases (Germany, Kenya, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden), at the national and sub-national level, will be compared based on an analytical framework (3 I’s: institutions, ideas, interests), supplemented by a global cross-country quantitative analysis, a regional study of the EU, and tool development. Overall, we aim to make policy recommendations both on novel and coherent policy packages and on process design to enable cross-country policy learning.
Achieving sustainable development worldwide remains probably the biggest political challenge of our time. In 2015, the international community adopted 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ with no less than 169 ‘targets’ as part of a global ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The ambition expressed in these goals is unprecedented. But can such goal-setting, as a new central approach in global governance, help resolve the pressing challenges of economic development, poverty eradication, social justice and global environmental protection? Nobody knows at this stage. While the United Nations and its member states place high hopes on this novel strategy, there is little scientific knowledge on whether such global goals can live up to exceedingly high expectations. Sustainability research has tended to focus on concrete institutions, actors and practices – not on aspirational goals that bring little in terms of normative specificity, stable regime formation or compliance mechanisms. How can ‘global governance through goals’ nonetheless be effective – and under which conditions? GLOBALGOALS will address this puzzle and break new ground in sustainability and global governance theories. It offers the first and most comprehensive data compilation, network mapping and comparative institutional analysis of the evolution, effectiveness and future prospects of ‘global governance through goals’ as a central novel steering mechanism in world politics. This 5–year study programme deploys a unique set of cutting-edge methodologies, including social network analysis and online surveys, to assess and explain the steering effects of nine Sustainable Development Goals through a detailed investigation of their institutional arrangements and actor networks, at international and national levels. GLOBALGOALS makes a crucial knowledge contribution to both the theory of global sustainability governance and the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
For more information, visit the project website (globalgoalsproject.eu).