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Projects Governing under complexity

The theme ‘Governing under complexity’ brings together scholars with an interest in studying complex problems and increasingly complex governance approaches to these problems.

Rather than conceptualizing governance in terms of discrete instruments (such as certification schemes or public-private partnerships) we start from the assumption that environmental governance (connecting various levels and scales of governing) constitutes a complex system in itself.

Below an overview


  • Global Biodiversity Governance Beyond 2020: The Role of International Cooperative Initiatives – BioSTAR (2018-2022)

    Governance for biodiversity has expanded beyond the multilateral negotiations in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A recent report, ‘Beyond the CBD: Exploring the institutional landscape of governing for biodiversity‘, identifies 108 international and transnational cooperative initiatives with relevance for biodiversity. The initiatives operate outside the auspices of the CBD, engaging nearly 10,000 non-state (e.g. companies and non-governmental organizations) and sub-national (e.g. cities and regions) actors, in various biodiversity-related policy fields such as energy, fisheries, agriculture and forestry. 

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  • Connect – Coping with Fragmentation: Assessing and Reforming the Current Architecture of Global Environmental Governance (2013-2017)

    Scientists today see mounting evidence that the entire earth system now operates well outside safe boundaries. According to a recent scientific assessment of the international Earth System Governance Project, human societies must change course and steer away from critical tipping points that might lead to rapid and irreversible change, while ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all. This requires a fundamental transformation in current patterns of consumption and production.

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  • ModelGIGS (2009-2011)

    Governance  and  institutions  are  increasingly  becoming  a  central  concern  within  the  more quantitatively oriented modelling and scenarios  community. In  order  to understand  the  effectiveness of  institutions  in steering  society and the  international system at  large  towards sustainability, a number of approaches have been developed  within  International  Relations  and  global  environmental  governance  research,  that potentially can be  integrated  into  the on-going  attempts  to  model  political  developments  and  interventions. The  quest  for  integration  of  social  science  research  into  more formalized  methodologies  such  as  modelling,  computer simulation and scenario development  represents  one  of  the  cutting-edge  research  frontiers in sustainability politics.  The  research  project  involves  a  two-step  methodology,  which  is  based  on  the  idea  of institutional  diagnostics. In  the  first  step,  the key  features  of  the  issue  and  the  issue-area will be identified as clearly and sharply as possible. The  second  step deals  with  defining the  nature  of  the  institutional  arrangements needed  to mitigate the problem  in question or to  find ways  to  adapt  to  its  impacts. The  key challenge  is  to  formalize  the  aforementioned  qualitative  factors,  through  quantitative  techniques, such as computer based modelling.

    Contact information: Prof. P.H. Pattberg.

    W11-005 PBL Background 10June2011 FINAL.pdf

    W11-003 PBL Biodiversity 10June2011 FINAL.pdf

  • Partnerships for Sustainable Development Research Project (2009-2011)

    Multi-stakeholder partnerships have become a much applied new mechanism in global environmental governance. At the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development the idea of multi-sectoral partnerships was taken to the intergovernmental stage — with the so-called Partnerships for Sustainable Development presented as an official outcome of the summit. These partnerships usually bring together governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector; in contrast to the traditional outcomes of international summits such as intergovernmental treaties or declarations. Thus far, more than 300 partnerships have been formally registered with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

    This offers the opportunity for new, extensive, and comparable empirical research as well as renewed theoretical insight. The PARTNERS project hosted by the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is interested in three interrelated questions: first, under what conditions did partnership arrangements emerge in global environmental politics? Second, how do they influence global environmental politics? And finally, how do partnerships perform in terms of democratic legitimacy and accountability or transform these concepts? To answer these questions, the research project developed a methodological approach that brings together quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative part consists of the Global Sustainability Partnerships Database (GSPD) which profiles the partnerships regime in the sphere of United Nations, as well as structured surveys that reflect the assessment of different sectors on the influence of partnerships. The qualitative part includes in-depth qualitative case studies, semi-structured interviews, as well as text and discourse analyses.

    The project is now focusing further on two specific areas of investigation. Discourses around the Partnerships for Sustainable Development, specifically the discourses of privatisation of governance, sustainable development, and participatory democracy, are analysed from a historical, post-structuralist perspective. Also in-depth studies are conducted on partnerships in the Asian, in particular Chinese, context; in collaboration with the EU Science and Technology Fellowship Programme in China (STF-China) and the Renmin University in Beijing.

    Contact information: Prof. Philipp Pattberg.

  • ADaptation And Mitigation strategies (2006-2009)

    ADAM supported the EU in the development of post-2012 global climate policies, the definition of European mitigation policies to reach its 2020 goals, and the emergence of new adaptation policies for Europe with special attention to the role of extreme weather events.   The main objectives were:

    To assess the extent to which existing climate policies can achieve a socially and economically tolerable transition to a world with a global climate no warmer than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

    To develop a portfolio of longer term policy options that could contribute to the EU 2 degree Centigrade target, and targets for adaptation.

    To develop the requirements for climate change appraisal in different contexts to enhance the emergence of innovative mitigation and adaptation strategies.

    IVM's role was to co-ordinate Work package 2 (Policy and Governance) and to take part in the other work packages, especially on climate change appraisal.

    Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.