Earth System Governance Project

Transforming governance and institutions for a planet under pressure

Revitalizing the institutional framework for global sustainability: Key Insights from social science research

Global environmental protection has featured high on the international political agenda since the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Yet, despite more than 900 environmental treaties coming into force over the past 40 years, human-induced environmental degradation is reaching unprecedented levels. Human societies must change course and steer away from critical tipping points in the earth system that might lead to rapid and irreversible change, while ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all. This requires a fundamental transformation of existing practices. If we are to achieve more sustainable development in the future, we have to reorient and restructure our national and international institutions and governance mechanisms. Incrementalism will not suffice to bring about societal change at the level required; the world needs structural change in global governance.

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development must become a major stepping stone towards introducing a stronger institutional framework for sustainable development. We urge decision makers to seize this opportunity to develop a clear and ambitious roadmap for institutional change and bring about fundamental reform of current sustainability governance within the next decade. This policy brief outlines the core areas needing most urgent action.

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