Governance of Environmental Sustainability in Telecoupled Systems of Global Inter-Regional Connectedness

Ecological sustainability problems arise not only ‘locally’ or ‘globally’ but also due to specific interconnections between distant regions. Such globally ‘telecoupled’ systems are increasingly the focus of interdisciplinary land-change and social-ecological systems research. Political science and other public governance research, however, have tended to focus either on the state, global institutions or multi-level systems, thus neglecting new phenomena of ‘globalization’ which connect specific distant regions. There is an urgent need to translate the findings of telecoupled social-ecological systems analyses into governance research. Drawing on the literatures on global environmental governance, social-ecological systems, global production networks, multilevel and polycentric governance, and policy coherence and environmental policy integration, GOVERNECT seeks to address this gap and systematically examine the governance implications of global inter- regional telecoupling. What do these phenomena imply for the effective governance of global unsustainability? How do states, civic and private actors react to these mounting challenges?


Figure 1. Telecoupling and environmental sustainability. Adapted from Challies et al. (2014: 35), building on Kissinger & Rees, (2010: 2618); Munroe et al. (2014: 18); Liu et al. (2013: 2-3); Eakin et al. (2014: 147).

Empirically, the project plans to conduct one in-depth case study and around 15 comparative case studies.

Drawing on previous work by the applicants, the core case study examines the inter-regional soy commodity chain between Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul) and Germany (Lower-Saxony), identifying its sustainability implications in and beyond both regions. Building on an analysis of existing actor networks and governance institutions as a multi-level system (including their interplay, polycentricity, policy coherence and environmental policy integration), the project will develop explorative-strategic governance scenarios, engaging with relevant policy-makers and stakeholders and speculating on the plausibility, the likely effects, and the interactions of considered governance options.

In order to gain a broader understanding of the governance issues of global telecoupling, approximately 15 further cases will be studied in parallel to the core case study, drawing mainly on secondary sources rather than field research. This broader study will allow us to map the breadth of possible interconnections and governance responses in a variety of contexts, and to isolate causal factors. Moreover, focusing on the perspective of German public (state) governance, the inclusion of a broader spectrum of inter-regional connectedness phenomena will help address the challenge of how governance responds to a variety of such phenomena.

GOVERNECT will be the first project to harness recently developed systems concepts for telecoupling to global environmental governance research on the basis of a sound empirical study. The proposed research is particularly innovative because it analyses governance institutions (or lack thereof) in their actual sustainability-relevant context.

Project lead: Jens Newig; Andrea Lenschow (Univ. Osnabrück); Edward Challies.



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

Eakin, H., R. DeFries, S. Kerr, E.F. Lambin, J. Liu, P.J. Marcotullio, P. Messerli, A. Reenberg, X. Rueda, S.R. Swaffield, B. WIcke and K. Zimmerer (2014) Significance of Telecoupling for Exploration of Land-Use Change, in Rethinking Global Land Use in an Urban Era, eds. K.C. Seto and A. Reenberg. Cambridge: MIT Press: 141-61.

Kissinger, M. and W.E. Rees (2010) ‘An interregional ecological approach for modelling sustainability in a globalizing world—Reviewing existing approaches and emerging directions.’ Ecological Modelling 221 (21): 2615-23.

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]

Liu, J., V. Hull, M. Batistella, R. DeFries, T. Dietz, F. Fu, T.W. Hertel, R.C. Izaurralde, E.F. Lambin, S. Li, L.A. Martinelli, W.J. McConnell, E.F. Moran, R. Naylor, Z. Ouyang, K.R. Polenske, A. Reenberg, G. de Miranda Rocha, C.S. Simmons, P.H. Verburg, P.M. Vitousek, F. Zhang and C. Zhu (2013) ‘Framing Sustainability in a Telecoupled World.’ Ecology and Society 18 (2).

Munroe, D.K., K. McSweeney, J.L. Olson and B. Mansfield (2014) ‘Using economic geography to reinvigorate land-change science.’ Geoforum 52 (0): 12-21.