, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 85-98,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 09 Feb 2011

Agency in earth system governance: refining a research agenda


In the face of global environmental change, a key question for the social sciences is how to organize the co-evolution of societies and their natural environment. In this context, a new long-term research program, the Earth System Governance Project, proposes several key issues to be examined: architecture, agency, adaptiveness, accountability, and allocation and access. The contributions to this special issue have focused on the analytical problem of agency. For example, they have examined newly emerging or understudied agents of global environmental governance, or offered a fresh assessment of agency in the context of existing governance mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism. This concluding article outlines several insights provided by the contributions to this special issue regarding four key questions underlying the study of agency in global environmental governance. First, they call attention to the ingredients or processes that characterize agency in the first place and thus distinguish actors from agents. Secondly, the authors highlight the differences among agents and how they interact with each other. Thirdly, they point toward variation in the ways that agents may acquire authority. Finally, the contributions to this special issue suggest that there may be several approaches to evaluating agency, with different consequences. Thus, taken together, the contributions to this special issue provide a starting point for broadening our understanding of agency in earth system governance.