Governance and Knowledge in the Anthropocene


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Zondervan, Ruben, with contributions from Ilan Chabay. 2012. Governance and Knowledge in the Anthropocene. IHDP Annual Report 2011, 32-35.

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Governance and Knowledge in the Anthropocene

  1. 1. IHDP International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental ChangeAnnual ReportInternational Human Dimensions Programmeon Global Environmental Change
  2. 2. Governance and Knowledge in the AnthropoceneBy Ruben Zondervan, with contributions from Ilan ChabayNavigating the Anthro- The Anthropocene: A new era in the history of Planet Earth in which the human species is apocene first requires main driver of global environmental change. Planetary Boundaries: Thresholds in naturaldeveloping strategies for systems defining a safe operating space for hu- manity.appropriate action and Sustainability: Adapting to global change in the Anthropocene while not exceeding plan-gaining greater insight etary boundaries. These three powerful concepts have gainedinto the drivers of global strong influence in recent years, well beyond the global change research community in whichchange. they were born. And yet despite their richness, they cannot convey a complete picture of the complex system of human-environment inter- actions. Missing are the human dimensions of global environmental change—the dynamic and rapidly changing interplay between human cul- tural, societal, economic and behavioural trends and the natural environments they both shape, and are shaped by. It is about the people who are drivers of global environmental change and therefore must be at the heart of any solution. In light of the unprecedented speed and mag- nitude of global environmental change, equally32 IHDP Annual Report 2011
  3. 3. unprecedented changes in human behaviour are to mitigate, adapt (including equitable gover-crucial to achieve sustainability—and to address nance) in the rapid (and accelerating) changesinequity. But changes where to and how? in our world. The knowledge to address the Given the non-linear dynamics of global en- issues must not only be found, (re)constructedvironmental change and natural systems out- or produced, but it must also be used to designside the range of natural variability, the Anthro- policies for different scales, in order to changepocene is mare incognitum—an unchartered the behaviour of individuals, communities, andsea. Planetary boundaries do help to set a few institutions.outer marker beacons to the Anthropocene era, However, merely having adequate and ap-but the challenge for the human dimensions of propriate knowledge does not necessarily leadglobal environmental change is to navigate the to requisite actions. In the gap between knowl-Anthropocene. edge and action lie crucial issues not only of The IHDP Knowledge, Learning, and So- how knowledge is produced and by whom,cietal Change Alliance, and the Earth System but also how it is framed and communicated;Governance Project contribute critical research by whom, for what purpose and in what con-to advancing answers to this question. text; and how it is learned and understood by Navigating the Anthropocene first requires relevant stakeholders. In addition to knowledgedeveloping strategies for appropriate action and systems and learning processes, it is essential togaining greater insight into the drivers of global identify and understand cultural and societalchange and the behavioural transitions needed barriers to individual and collective action andto avoid or respond effectively to possible ef-fects. Understanding the complex mechanisms,dynamics, and outcomes of the interplay be- “Faced with this wide array of com-tween knowledge, learning, and societal change plex and critical issues facing human-will be crucial. Faced with this wide array of complex and ity at all levels—from the local to globalcritical issues facing humanity at all levels— scale—we need to find new ways offrom the local to global scale—we need to findnew ways of using local and traditional knowl- using local and traditional knowledgeedge systems—including governance schema— systems—including governance sche-in connection with formal scientific knowledge,develop broader understanding and communi- ma—in connection with formal scien-cation of our evolving knowledge base, and learn tific knowledge.” 33
  4. 4. effective, ethical ways to overcome them. dividual and collective actions affecting sustain- These issues are at the core of the new IHDP ability at multiple temporal and spatial scales. international research and action alliance on Engaging with and communicating among “Knowledge, Learning, and Societal Change: stakeholders involves performance, exhibitions, finding paths to a sustainable future (KLSC)”. workshops, legacy commercial media, and the Addressing these kinds of socially-coupled increasingly extensive and influential repertoire complex issues requires trans-disciplinary and of social media and ICT. Stakeholders include inter-disciplinary research in which the entire people from affected communities, corporate and NGO leaders, policy shapers and makers,“Research on earth system gover- social and natural scientists, historians, philoso- phers, and artists.nance, is also research on the role that Navigating the Anthropocene secondly re-science and knowledge play in gover- quires a better understanding of governance and the development of policy solutions towards anance.” global, effective architecture for governance of research process from conceptual design to data sustainability that can adapt to changing cir- collection to analysis to communication of con- cumstances, that involves civil society, that is clusions is conducted with the participation of accountable and legitimate beyond the nation relevant and interested stakeholders. state, and that is fair for everyone. This is the Photo: Creative Commons Flickr/European Parliament Two of the key questions that the KLSC alli- challenge addressed by the IHDP Earth System ance will investigate are related broadly to issues Governance Project—an international interdis- of governance. How we can best understand ciplinary research alliance. and use computational models and scenarios The issues and political dynamics in the 21st with our evolving knowledge to create options century are different from those when most for policy and practice? How can we create, use, institutions currently in place to govern the and study the impact of narratives of sustainable human interaction with natural systems were futures, including those suggested by models, to founded. Today’s problems are characterized by stimulate constructive individual and collective temporal, spatial, and sectoral interdependen- actions and policy? cies; complexity; a multitude of actors; and ana- The two questions represent two comple- lytical and normative uncertainty. This poses mentary perspectives on how people produce, new questions and might require different an- understand, and respond to knowledge, and swers to old questions related to key concepts how understanding and response relate to in- in governance including power, scale, norms,34 IHDP Annual Report 2011
  5. 5. and the role of knowledge. Research on earth territories with the foreboding phrase “here besystem governance is also research on the role dragons”. With humans as main driving forcethat science and knowledge play in governance. in the Anthropocene, it will be learning, knowl-One of the crosscutting themes of the project is edge, governance, and action that will deter-dedicated to this question and relates to all ana- mine whether dragons indeed await us in thelytical problems of earth system governance. Anthropocene, or if it actually could be a nice The boundary between knowledge and de- place.cision-making is not hard and fast, but dynamicand constantly negotiated. Neither is sciencefree from politics, nor politics from science.Earth System Governance research thus pays at-tention to the intersection of power and knowl-edge and how this shapes the way earth systemchallenges are framed and potential policy re-sponse agendas set—because that is the plottingof a course in the Anthropocene. Ancient maps often marked unchartered 35