Towards Sustainability in EU-Brazil Trade Negotiations

By Jens Newig, Benedetta Cotta, Johanna Coenen, Andrea Lenschow, Edward Challies and Almut Schilling-Vacaflor

While European countries and EU policies have made some progress in enhancing domestic sustainability, we are pretty much failing when it comes to taking responsibility for the far-away consequences of our way of living. Chemical pollution and loss of native forests are two striking examples of such distant effects of our local meat production that relies on Brazilian soy imports as protein-rich animal feed. We call such distant effects “global telecoupling”. Labels for sustainable production standards developed by private industry and non-governmental organizations (such as by the Round Table for Responsible Soy) have not proven overly effective. Governmental bodies in Europe should therefore stronger than they did previously take up their responsibility to pass effective policies. In our team, we are currently studying the  governance responses to unsustainable global telecoupling, in the DFG-funded project “GOVERNECT”, and the EU-ITN “COUPLED”.

With a view to current EU-Brazil trade negotiations, an open letter was published yesterday in Science, with co-signatories including 602 scientists from every country in the EU and two Brazilian Indigenous organizations, which together represent over 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups. The letter calls to prioritize human rights and the environment in EU trade talks with Brazil.

Workshop on “Rethinking the governance of European Water protection” 

By Nadine Schröder

When:  January 8th-9th 2019

Where: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig


Nadine Schröder  (Leuphana University Lüneburg)

Barbara Schröter (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF))

Frank Hüesker (UFZ Leipzig)


During this workshop we want to discuss on European Water governance and to address frameworks/ lenses/ concepts/ theories and methods to research water governance: Which factors, levels and scales do they focus on? Which roles play participation, sector integration and basin approaches? We draw conclusions how the governance might be improved in favor of better performance: Which factors may influence local, regional and national success or failure? Are best-practice examples identifiable empirically? Additionally, we critically reflect how the chosen frameworks and methods predetermine the findings of regulating parameters. We aim for joint products as results of the workshop, like e.g. a special issue, a book, joint conference panels, seeding joint projects, work on the science-policy interface, a manifest and so on, which is open to be discussed and depends on the interest of the participants.

You can have a look at the abstract and preliminary program here:

Preliminary Program




New PhD position on governance and policy analysis in globally telecoupled systems

We are now seeking to fill a 100% PhD position on “Governance institutions for sustainability in globally telecoupled systems” within the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie ETN Graduate School ‘COUPLED’, starting 1 July 2018 for a duration of 36 months.

Topic: Globally telecoupled systems such as commodity chains, long-range pollution or distant policy-driven effects present complex new challenges for sustainability governance. These are often beyond the capabilities of individual states and even multilateral institutions to regulate. At the same time, the policy and governance interventions of governments and other actors themselves often have a range of unforeseen consequences and knock-on effects. Taking European Union (EU) environmental policy as its primary vantage point, this research will: (1) identify key institutions, networks of actors and instruments deployed to govern for sustainability in specific case studies of telecoupled systems (e.g. global trade and supply chains and networks), and (2) assess their impacts with particular attention to so-called ‘policy-driven displacement’ effects, policy spillovers and feed-backs (e.g. increased deforestation resulting from EU biofuels policy). On the basis of this analysis, the research will (3) identify governance levers for effective intervention at multiple levels (from multilateral to local) and among different actors (e.g. governmental, private sector, civil society) to address policy-driven displacement effects.

In carrying out this work, the ESR will: (1) Conduct interviews and documentary research to chart networks and key actors and structures associated with EU efforts to govern for sustainability in telecoupled systems (focusing on certain specific cases such as agricultural commodity chains or raw resource flows); (2) analyse and assess the effectiveness (success factors and barriers, social and environmental impacts) of different governance arrangements and their unintended policy-driven displacement effects; and (3) propose potential policy and governance interventions for increased sustainability in telecoupled systems. The ESR will be jointly supervised by Prof. Jens Newig, Dr. Edward Challies and Prof. Patrick Meyfroidt (Earth and Life Institute, Catholic University of Leuven). Potential secondment placements include the German Federal Environmental Ministry in Berlin (Germany) and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium).

Location: Leuphana University Lüneburg is a young university, focusing on sustainability, cultural and political science, education, and management and entrepreneurship, and has repeatedly been awarded for innovation. The Research Group on Governance, Participation and Sustainability, led by Prof. Newig, is affiliated both with Leuphana’s Faculty of Sustainability and with its Centre for the Study of Democracy. A multidisciplinary group of senior and early-career social scientists, it focuses on addressing the big challenges of governance in the context of environmental and sustainability politics.

We seek: a candidate with an above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Political Science, Human Geography, Sustainability Science or cognate discipline. We expect a strong interest in environmental policy and governance. Excellent written and spoken English is essential, and experience with both qualitative and quantitative methods (e.g. Social Network Analysis) would be advantageous.

Mobility Rule: Please note that at the time of recruitment, candidates must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Germany for more than 12 months in the last 3 years (in accordance to the funding programme of the ETN). Leuphana University Lüneburg is an equal opportunity employer committed to fostering heterogeneity among its staff. Applications by qualified individuals are strongly encouraged. Disabled applicants with equal qualifications will be given priority consideration.

Contact: Prof. Dr Jens Newig; e-mail:

Applications including a letter of motivation, full CV, a draft proposal, relevant certificates/transcripts, and contact details for two references shall be submitted via the project website

Application deadline: 24 November 2017.

New project: Governance of global telecoupling – and two open post-doc positions

By Jens Newig

In recent years, more and more research has been pointing to the importance of distant connections of natural and social processes for issues of global unsustainability. Land-use scientist have labelled this phenomenon, which might entail global commodity chains, migration, or the spread of diseases, “telecoupling”. While there have been substantive advances in describing the flows and the associated implications for environmental sustainability, we know little about how to govern such telecoupled global linkages.

Our new project, which is jointly led by Andrea Lenschow from Osnabrück University, Edward Challies and myself, will investigate how state, private and non-governmental actors have sought to govern the (un)sustainability implications of telecoupling in the past; what (polycentric) policy-networks have emerged in doing so; and, together with key state and non-state actors we will map out scenarios for more effectivley governing global telecoupling for environmental sustainability.

We’ve already published two papers on this (see below), which seek to contribute to a conceptual framework.

For deepening conceptual work and conducting empirical case studies, we will be employing two full-time post-docs for three years. The job ad can be downloaded here.

Funding: German Research Foundation.

> More information on the project GOVERNECT.


Challies, E., Newig, J., & Lenschow, A. (2014). What role for social-ecological systems research in governing global teleconnections?. Global Environmental Change : Human and Policy Dimensions, 27, 32-40. 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.015

Lenschow, A., Newig, J., & Challies, E. (2016). Globalization’s limits to the environmental state? Integrating telecoupling into global environmental governance. Environmental Politics, 25(1), 136-159. doi:10.1080/09644016.2015.1074384. [Free Open Access Content]

The perils of technocratism: Will environmentalists learn from Brexit?


Excellent thoughts by colleagues from Seattle, highlighting the role of justice and participation in sustainability transformation.


By Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash.  What do the Brexit vote, the rise of Trump and Sanders, and apathy towards climate change mitigation have in common? The perils of relying on technocratism to justify policy choices.

Much will be written on why the British have voted for Brexit. There are already dire predictions about the future of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the world economy. Mainstream newspapers are puzzled as to why the British voted for the exit even though it might hurt them. They blame populism, the rise of the far right, fears about immigration, economic globalization and so on.

While this is true, the mainstream media has not seriously engaged with the source of voter dissatisfaction with the EU. More broadly, we ought to ask: why are voters less willing to take marching orders from the economic and scientific elites? Why are they willing to…

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Participation and collaboration for sustainable flood risk management?

By Ed Challies

Floods are the most frequently occurring natural disaster globally, and flood damages are expected to increase drastically over the coming decades due to climate change, demographic trends, and on-going development on flood plains. This will play out differently and pose unique challenges in different regions, and Europe is no exception. Floods in Europe inflict greater economic losses more frequently than any other natural hazard, with trillions of Euros worth of assets and millions of people exposed (see Jongman et al. 2012). A recent study reported by the Europe Joint Research Centre predicts annual damages to rise from EUR 5.6 to 40 billion by 2050, and the number of people affected to rise from 200 thousand to over half a million over the same period.

With projections such as these, it is no wonder that the challenge of better managing (and reducing) flood risk is high on the political agenda in Europe. The recurrence of severe floods, like those on the Elbe and Danube rivers in 2013, and the 2015-16 floods in Britain and Ireland, only serve to heighten the sense of urgency among citizens and officials. In some ways this serves to increase awareness and engagement and provide impetus for action at multiple levels – from households and municipalities right up to member states and the European Union. On the other hand, the high stakes and direct threat that floods pose to human wellbeing, present challenges for flood risk management planning. This is particularly so in light of the current policy shift away from the previously dominant paradigm of flood protection and defence, and towards a more integrated flood risk management approach. Most importantly, this entails the management of risk (as opposed to the management of floods), and implies the negotiation of socially acceptable levels of exposure and risk – an issue that is inevitably sensitive and often controversial.

Flood 2013Photo: Flooding in Passau (Inn/Danube), Germany, 2013. Licence CC BY-SA 2.0; Stefan Penninger.

Flood risk is commonly defined as comprising (1) the magnitude of flood hazard (frequency and severity), (2) the exposure of human activities, and (3) the vulnerability of exposed elements. There are, therefore, multiple points for intervention to address and mitigate flood risk, ranging from information and awareness-raising campaigns and early warning systems, to flood protection measures, land-use planning and ‘ecological’ measures such as wetland restoration and afforestation. In this sense, efforts to confront flooding touch on a wide range of activities, policy fields and stakeholders within river basins. No wonder, then, that flood risk management is typically characterised by high stakes, competing interests, and conflict!

With the aim of improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of flood risk management, participatory and collaborative approaches are increasingly advocated, which should bring stakeholders and the affected public on-board in planning and decision-making. One prominent development in this direction in the European context is the 2007 Floods Directive, which aims to reduce the effects of flooding through an explicitly participatory approach to cyclical planning. Under the Directive, member states are legally obliged to encourage the active involvement of all interested parties in the planning process. Because every country and responsible authority is starting from a different baseline in terms of flood risk management and participatory governance, however, an array of approaches are currently unfolding across the EU. The rationale behind this ‘mandated participatory planning’ approach (Newig & Koontz 2014) is very much an instrumental one: The European Commission expects that it will produce better plans, more widely accepted and implementable measures, and more effective flood risk management.

Precisely because so much stock is put in participatory approaches to deliver improved and effective planning and management, there is a need to examine how participatory public decision-making is playing out in the field of flood risk management, and to consider what potential participation holds. Participatory and collaborative approaches in environmental planning and management more widely have certainly had mixed success in terms of achieving legitimacy and effectiveness. What about the field of flood risk management poses particular challenges for participatory planning and implementation? What potential do participatory approaches hold for fostering sustainable and just flood risk management? These questions motivate a recent special issue of Environmental Science and Policy jointly edited by members of our research group here at Leuphana University, and drawing together twelve contributions from leading scholars in the field. The collection examines, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, some of the key issues around justice and power, acceptance and legitimacy, social learning, multi-level governance and policy integration, and governance learning in flood risk management.

With climate change and developmental pressures continuing to exacerbate multiple drivers of flood risk, it will be crucial for research to focus on how policy and governance responses perform in mitigating this risk. As authorities like the EU increasingly advocate participatory approaches, but recurring flood events continually trigger calls to revert to expert-led planning and engineered flood protection solutions, researchers must also critically examine collaborative planning. This should ideally be done in partnership with authorities and practitioners in ways that can support transdisciplinary learning and adaptation – not only about effective measures for sustainable flood risk management, but also about how to conduct effective and legitimate participatory planning towards this end.

Special Issue: Check out the special issue in Environmental Science and Policy: Participatory and Collaborative Governance for Sustainable Flood Risk Management: An emerging research agenda (Edited by Ed Challies, Jens Newig, Thomas Thaler, Elisa Kochskämper, and Meike Levin-Keitel).


  • Jongman, B., Ward, P. J., & Aerts, J. C. J. H. (2012). Global exposure to river and coastal flooding: Long term trends and changes. Global Environmental Change, 22(4), 823-835.
  • Newig, J., & Koontz, T. M. (2014). Multi-level governance, policy implementation and participation: The EU’s mandated participatory planning approach to implementing environmental policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 21(2), 248-267.

Wind energy conflicts in forested landscapes- Insights from stakeholder interviews in Maine, USA and Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

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By Nataly Jürges

Renewable energy projects are increasingly realized worldwide as part of a global strategy to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil. However, the transition towards renewable energies is not without problems. For example, wind energy projects in forests are an emotional topic in different parts of the world, and can develop into serious conflicts. Conflicts about renewable energy projects are an important topic from a sustainability governance perspective. The governance of wind energy conflicts is an important issue in the transition towards renewable energies. As part of my PhD project, I examined wind energy conflicts in forested landscapes in Maine, USA and Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Between summer 2014 and beginning of 2015 I spent 8 months at the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, where I did a case study on wind energy conflicts in forested landscapes as part of my PhD research.

Conflicts over wind energy projects in forests are complex, often involving many stakeholders, such as forest owners, local residents, wind energy companies, nature conservationists and recreationists. Forty-six interviewees from Rhineland-Palatinate and Maine shared their experiences and perspectives on wind energy conflicts with me. Surprisingly, the arguments of involved parties were similar in both regions. Even though differences in the overall governance structure made for some slight differences in decision-making processes in the case study regions, wind energy conflicts turned out to be quite universal (at least in the cases of Maine, USA and Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany).

For example, transparency, or rather a perceived lack of transparency in decision-making, was mentioned in stakeholder interviews in both cases as an important factor in the development of conflicts and controversies around wind energy projects:

“What we’re speaking to is really a sore spot in this town because we would argue and we wouldn’t never back down on that, they kept it secret for a year, they kept it secret for as long as they could to get the ordinance in favor of the developer, and the developer kept it secret to build his alliance and that really matters in terms of how everybody feels about it once they come aware. It would have been much more respectful of the town government to once they were being asked by a developer to consider a huge project, which is way, way out of proportion out of anything that’s ever been going on in [name of the town]. If you’re a small town in Maine and a gigantic development project is coming into town, I feel that they are absolutely obligated to make that as public as possible from the first idea. From the conception of it and they did absolutely the opposite. There was nothing and we are 3,000 feet away from the project. We would be hugely impacted if they went up and they had, they never showed us any respect at all in that regard.”

(Interview quote from an interview with residents near a planned wind energy project)

The most appropriate level or scale for decision-making about wind energy projects was an important aspect in discussions on how to govern wind energy projects most efficiently, effectively, and legitimately. Different perceptions existed in both case study areas as to whether higher or lower administrative governance levels are more appropriate to decide about controversial wind energy projects.

Local decision-making tradition was mentioned as an important argument for the choice of the most appropriate decision-making level, particularly in Maine:

“We’re a state that loves its local control, so, for better or for worse, that’s what we have. You know, there are times when local control is great because those communities understand the needs, wants and desires of their community. Sometimes it can be a draw back if you’re trying to make sort of a systemic change in the way a society operates. So, for example, if you’re trying as a society to move away from fossil fuels and into more clean energy, sometimes local control can be challenging. But that doesn’t mean that we should do away with it.”

(Interview participant from Maine)

However, other interview participants did not share the preference for local decision-making. Consideration of nature conservation interests was seen as being better realized at higher governance levels:

“Everything concerning the protection of species cannot be considered at the local scale. Especially if it is a mobile species, as bats and birds, then you just have to have the greater perspective. Check main occurrence, where are the main migratory lines.”

                (Nature conservationist from Rhineland-Palatinate)

The perception of the most appropriate level or scale for decision-making about wind energy projects was often based on conflicting frames about what wind energy projects are about. For example, some interviewees saw wind energy projects mainly in the context of nature conservation and species protection, while others saw wind energy projects as a topic related to local regional development. These conflicting issue frames quite often resulted in different understandings about the most appropriate decision-making level.