Research now indicates that the world is nearing critical tipping points in the Earth system, including on climate and biodiversity, which if not addressed through a new framework of governance could lead to rapid and irreversible change.
"Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth's sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years," wrote the authors in the opening of "Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance."
Reducing the risk of potential global environmental disaster requires the development of "a clear and ambitious roadmap for institutional change and effective sustainability governance within the next decade," comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II, they wrote.
In particular, the group argued for the creation of a Sustainable Development Council that would better integrate sustainability concerns across the United Nations system. Giving a leading role to the 20 largest economies (G20) would help the council act effectively. The authors also suggested an upgrade of the UN Environment Program to a full-fledged international organization, a move that would give it greater authority and more secure funding
To keep these institutions accountable to the public, the scientists called for stronger consultative rights for representatives of civil society, including representatives from developing countries, NGOs, consumers and indigenous peoples.
"We should seek input from people closest to the ground, not just from the elites, not just at the 30,000-feet level," noted Kenneth W. Abbott, a professor of international relations in ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. "Consultations should not take place only at the global scale, where the broadest policies are created, but also at local scales, smaller scales, all scales," he said.
To improve the speed of decision-making in international negotiations, the authors called for stronger reliance on qualified majority voting. "There has to be a change in international negotiating procedures from the current situation, in which no action can be taken unless consensus is reached among all participating governments," Abbott said.
The authors also called for governments "to close remaining regulatory gaps at the global level," including the treatment of emerging technologies.