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Earth System Science Partnership (2001-2012)


Mission and goal of ESSP

The interconnectivity and unprecedented scale of the human transformation of the Earth system calls for a new paradigm in the way science seeks to understand global environmental problems and to provide solutions. To help address this challenge, the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) was established in 2001 by four global environmental change (GEC) research programmes: DIVERSITAS, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The ESSP facilitates the study of the Earth’s environment as an integrated system in order to understand how and why it is changing, and to explore the implications of these changes for global and regional sustainability.


Short history

The Amsterdam Declaration, endorsed by participants at the "Global Environmental Change Open Science Conference" in 2001, describes the Earth system as a single, self-regulating system under rapid human transformation. It recognised both the scientific progress of the international Global Environmental Change (GEC) research programmes (DIVERSITAS: the International Programme on Biodiversity Science; IGBP: International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme; IHDP: International Human Dimensions Programme for Global Environmental Change; and WCRP: World Climate Research Programme) and the need for a new partnership to further advance and integrate Earth system knowledge. Acting on the Declaration, the four GEC research programmes created the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP).


Main activities

Joint research projects on carbon dynamics (Global Carbon Project), food (Global Environmental Change and Food systems), water (Global Water System Project) and health (Global Environmental Change and Human Health) have been established. The ESSP, in collaboration with other partners (e.g. Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) and the global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START)) developed the Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS). MAIRS is designed to contribute sound scientific understanding in support of sustainable development at the local and regional level. Collaborative research is, therefore, a central tenet of ESSP. Another example is "Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security" (CCAFS), a major collaborative endeavour between the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and their partners, and ESSP. It is aimed at overcoming the additional threats posed by a changing climate to achieving food security, enhancing livelihoods and improving environmental management in the developing world.  The mainstay of the ESSP was to identify and define Earth system science challenges, enable integrative research to address these challenges, and build scientific capacity (especially through START). Our common goal was, therefore, to develop the essential knowledge base needed to respond effectively and quickly to the great challenge of global environmental change.

Main achievements

After a decade of interdisciplinary enterprise, the ESSP achieved considerable scientific accomplishments, including the design and implementation of an annual carbon budget trends and analysis; a digital global water atlas; a global analysis on human water security and biodiversity conservation; the establishment of a joint project on global environmental change and human health; and an innovative food systems conceptual framework. One of the lasting legacies of the ESSP Joint Project on Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS) has been the creation of a 10-year CGIAR program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Understanding regional environmental change and its implications for local sustainability have been a critical area for the ESSP, as illustrated by the establishment of the Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS), the Global Carbon Project’s Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes (RECCAP) and GECAFS’ regional science plans in the Caribbean, Indo-Gangetic Plain and Southern Africa.

Another major achievement of ESSP - as a scientific partnership of the four GEC research programmes - is that it helped enable collaboration among DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP. The ESSP has also nurtured a progressive outreach portfolio. For instance, the ESSP and the sponsor programmes (DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP) contribute to an annual research dialogue with the Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). This on-going dialogue provides the research community with an opportunity to provide regular science updates to major science-policy processes. Another example of ESSP contributions to science-policy practice is that ESSP led the scientific review of UNEP’s Global Environmental Outlook-5.  The ESSP also pioneered a peer-reviewed journal, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST). This journal is open access for developing countries and is fast becoming a community platform for timely synthesis and review papers.

Recent ESSP Publications.


Transition into "Future Earth"

On 31st December 2012, the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) closed and transitioned into the new initiative of ICSU, ISSC, and their partners, Future Earth, as it develops over the next few years. During this period, the GEC research programmes (DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP) will continue close collaboration with each other. Future Earth is currently being planned as a ten-year International Research Initiative for Global Sustainability that will build on decades of scientific excellence of the four GEC research programmes (DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP) and their scientific partnership, the ESSP.

Ensuring there is no discontinuity during the transition phase into Future Earth, the four sponsor programmes (DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP) will continue to stimulate the ESSP Joint Projects (GCP, GECHH and GWSP) and the Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS) as integrative, interdisciplinary, cross-cutting research activities, based on the knowledge and insights for each of the programmes, and relevant for each programme and beyond. These projects and activities will therefore continue to be part of the four sponsor programmes until Future Earth becomes operational.

For more information about Future Earth and the transition process.

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