Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 12: International Organizations and Global Environmental Governance: Toward Structural Reform
Frank Biermann Over the last two hundred years, humankind has evolved into a planetary force that influences global biogeochemical systems. No longer is the human species a spectator that merely needs to adapt to the natural environment. Humanity itself has become a powerful agent of earth system evolution. In particular, global warming is proceeding rapidly. The snowfields on the Kilimanjaro might melt within a few decades, and the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean has shrunk by over 30 percent since satellite observations began in 1979. Some scientists warn that major disruptions in the earth system could occur within this century.1 The evidence of human influence on all planetary systems is such that stratigraphy experts are prepared today to formally classify the present time as a distinct epoch in planetary history, the “Anthropocene.”2 This development poses one of the largest governance challenges ever. Policy-makers in the twentieth century gained much experience in managing confined ecosystems, such as river basins, forests, or lakes. In the twenty-first century, they are faced with one of the largest political problems humankind has had to deal with: protecting the entire system earth, including most of its subsystems, and building stable institutions that guarantee a safe transition and a co-evolution of natural and social systems at planetary scale. I call this the challenge of earth system governance, as a new paradigm to describe this particular challenge of planetary coevolution of humans and nature.3 This governance challenge is a core task for governments and civil society...
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