Oran R. YoungLa communauté de la Gouvernance du Système Terre rassemble des centaines de chercheurs du monde entier pour réfléchir sur leur vaste thème et qu'ils examinent sous une grande variété d'angles. La plupart des études sont, en effet, à des échelles beaucoup plus petites, y compris des analyses de problèmes locaux. Mais théoriser sur la gouvernance environnementale par Oran R. Young dans son exposé sur une approche diagnostique institutionnelle de la gouvernance du système terrestre et l'exploration des points de basculement dans le système climatique présentée par Ilona Otto et ses collaborateurs du PIK figuraient parmi les nombreux interventions magistrales qui provoquaient la réflexion dans de systèmes à plus vaste échelle.

There were only two ocean panels addressing governance issues on a selection of maritime issues, including the new fashion of "Blue Growth". Potentially a powerful concept to move forward on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with emphasis on SDG14 "Life under Water", it should link technological innovation, growth of environmentally friendly business, low impact use of natural capital and provide sustainable livelihoods. The dream of a socially equitable economy that is compatible with environmental imperatives is strong among the many. Unfortunately, it seems that many governments and companies have rather adopted the term as a catch all to invest in anything marine, no matter what. Sustainability concerns and the interlinkages with other SDGs are often only paid lip service. To read some of the publications and statements conveys a sense of new "Blue Gold Rush", unfettered by earlier failures of ambitious techno-fixes and with scant attention to seeking the social licence to operate. It does not have to be like this provided the technological solutions are grounded in a community of practice and of place, that the different values of stakeholders are accounted for and the communities engage with the choice of technologies and the politics surrounding such choices.

Presenting a paper at the cross roads of formal guidance, ethics and participatory approaches in complex socio-ecological systems in relation e.g. to small-scale fisheries was an interesting experience in this type of research community. It was a well-received attempt to bring themes and approaches explored in the geoethics community and small-scale fisheries to this context and figure out differences and commonalities.

The key message was that a constructive interplay between informal and formal institutions and participatory processes are key to govern such complex systems in sustainable ways, illustrated by efforts to implement the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines that were used to illustrate the crucial points. The slides are here.

This fitted quite well with the altogether only two sessions on maritime topics and blue economy themes, including the exploration of a public trust doctrine as a possible vehicle to force public participation to ensure responsible use of coastal and marine resources.

Together with the other panel presenters, a very stimulating exchange with the audience centered, among others, on how to enable more cross-sectorial learning and enhancing participatory practices. It is quite clear that "licence to operate" in a context of "informed consent" hinges of pushing forward broader and more wide-spread approaches to engage critically with citizens. This is, of course, all the harder the more remote from view and direct experience businesses operate. But the panel insisted that the greater the potential risk of damage, possibly even irreversible damage, the greater was the need for citizen participation and democratical ly legitimised oversight.

The need for oversight was also apparent during a panel session looking specifically into the often murky ways in which private foundations operate and invest in various ocean schemes at levels that dwarf public action in some areas. According to one estimate presented one fourth of environmental funding is from private philanthropy, shiftnig the global balance of action. Some big foundations single-handedly bankroll entire environmental programmes of some cities. It quickly became apparent how difficult it was to research these forms of intervention often driven by tax breaks and that set the agenda in several areas of marine protection. As these private foundations and philanthropies are unaccountable they are prone to greater risk taking and walking away, if things don't work out as expected, leaving people and local institutions behind to pick up the pieces.

Together with scientists they pay, they may act at different scales as norm setters, sometimes promoting pro-business perspectives like the Gates Foundation, with scant reference to justice of human rights systems. The more than US$ 340 bio. from philanthropy is at a par with public investment in several areas and engages particularly heavily in strong marketing and using media power to promote their interpretation of what needs to be done. Beyond traditional patronage, the big foundations go for scale and influence, not necessarily for critical assessment. In smaller countries, e.g. Timor Leste they do not even need to lobby for their objectives as they sit at the table and setting policy thanks to their deep pockets.

Ilona Otto, Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact ResearchThe panel called for more independent research into the motivations and outcomes of philanthropy funding, which does not need to care as much about negative effects on different stakeholders as would be the case for elected governments. It was also suggested to check what they don't fund because of their tax status. Questions should include what norms they apply and support? This is particularly relevant in situations where they fund activities to hold governments accountable, but do not want to be accountable themselves. Research should also look into their innovation capacity - if it were equal or lower than public action, that would be a missed learning opportunity.

One researcher voiced the hypothesis that foundations are primarily interested in maintaining the status quo, because they get most of their funding from for profit companies in oil, gas, gambling and other such enterprises. That sometimes leads to unexpected situations, such as when Rockefeller invests in Chevron getting at least 5% of profits for the foundation and pays out US$250,000 to indigenous groups in Brazil fighting Chevron's Amazonian pipeline. A similar contradiction was observed in this case of a Chinese billionnaire. So, there is no shortage of questions, but all panelists agreed about the difficulties to get reliable data to answer them robustly.

Ilona Otto and co-workers presented an analysis of social tipping dynamics for stabilising the climate of our planet. How could that be achieved with the required 7% annual CO2 reduction to meet the goal of not exceeding 1.5°C warming agreed 2015 in Paris. She cautioned that when we think of change, we usually think of it as a gradual process. Even the collapse of communism translated only into 2% change. What we need to achieve is therefore unprecedented.

Through a questionnaire administered to experts, sustainability researchers and practitioners, the 133 responses produced 224 candidates for social tipping elements. These were tested for their usefulness to bring about a rapid transition within the next 20 years.

Among the most promising approaches for dramatic changes within approximately 10 years were energy production and storage supported by subsidies and distributed production and heavy investment in carbon-neutral cities, which would stimlate demand for fossil free technologies, e.g. wood construction. The divestment movement from fossil industries could bring about even more rapid change. The analysis suggested that 9% of investors switching portfolios would already trigger tangible results, while social change approaches emphasiing the immoral character of fossil fuels would at best stabilise CO2 emissions over several decades. Several other options were considered as potentially contributing to the objective and allowing different regions to chose pathways most adapted to their circumstances. The research confirmed that there were no silver bullets, but that investment into education for long-term stabilisation and into a committed minority pushing positive change (19 to 25%) could help tip the balance towards more rapid change.

It was also agreed that it was important to add citizens perspectives and engagement to the expert opinion, as past experience has shown the latter's limitation on issues going beyond their technical expertise. In particular, the debate of the paper underlined much needed attention to social and environmental justice as 0.5% of the wealthiest people account for 50% of the CO2 emissions of the large numbers of poor people. The political process and normative change can be used to drive advances, as demonstrated in the case of Costa Rica and other countries decided to leave oil in the ground.

Here is not the space for reporting on the many more interesting research results presented and discussed at this conference. Click here for the book of abstracts to get a flavour of the variety of topics addressed. We were happy to be part of this conversation and make substantial contributions in several sessions.