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

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, ….

2 thoughts on “The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences”

  1. Oh man, so it’s not specifically climate change anymore, it’s global change. In other words, any change anywhere is bad. Am I getting this concept correctly? So if there is any change anywhere for any reason, it’s bad and we need to cough up some money. This is gross.

    I used to be a lefty, now I look back on those days and lower my head in shame.

  2. @klem: not sure I understand what you mean, but I guess the point is that climate change is only one of many global environmental stresses. The concept Planetary Boundaries (here: or the Anthropocene (here: captures these multiple interacting stresses well.

    However, this is not the same as to say that “all change is bad”. On the contrary, some changes make excellent windows of opportunity for change towards more sustainable trajectories. This is being increasingly acknowledged in research about innovation, transitions and transformations. But that is another blogpost…

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