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Logo: Earth System Science Partnership


ESSP is a joint initiative of four global change programmes:

DIVERSITAS - an international programme of biodiversity science

IGBP - International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

IHDP - International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change

WCRP - World Climate Research Programme

Earth System Science Partnership

Increasingly, scientists recognize the Earth as a complex and sensitive system regulated by physical, chemical and biological processes—and influenced, as never before, by human factors.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) brings together researchers from diverse fields, and from across the globe, to undertake an integrated study of the Earth System: its structure and functioning; the changes occurring to the System; and the implications of those changes for global sustainability.

The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts of the Earth System exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability. Understanding of the System’s natural dynamics has advanced greatly in recent years, and now provides a sound basis for evaluating the effects and consequences of human-driven changes. ESSP contributes to this endeavour in four ways:

Joint Projects

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ESSP Joint Projects focus on aspects of global change that are critical to human well-being. At present, these initiatives cover four areas: carbon/energy systems, food, water, and human health. In each instance, the goal is to identify the challenges caused by global change, understand the implications of human-driven change, and build a research agenda of direct relevance for societies. In short, ESSP Joint Projects are designed to span the interface between global change and global sustainability issues, while also gathering new knowledge about how specific processes function within the larger Earth System.

  • The Global Carbon Project (GCP) investigates carbon cycles and energy systems with the aim of developing policy-relevant knowledge that encompasses natural and human dimensions, as well as their interactions.
  • Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS) develops strategies to address food security concerns that arise from global environmental change, while also analyzing the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of adaptation.
  • The Global Water System Project (GWSP) examines how humans are changing the global water cycle, the associated biogeochemical cycles, and the biological components of the global water system. It also seeks to understand the human responses to these changes and the implications of these responses for societies and for the Earth System.
  • A fourth project on Global Environmental Change and Human Health is in the early development phase. The objective of this project is to better understand the multi-faceted and complex linkages between global change (e.g. changes in climate, use of land and sea, loss of biodiversity, and socio-economic fluctuations) and human health.

Earth System Analysis and Modelling

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The core of ESSP activities lies in in-depth analysis and advanced modelling of the Earth System as a whole, incorporating data and information from the diverse fields represented by the four global change programmes. The first such effort on Earth System modelling is already underway, built on collaboration between IGBP's Global Analysis, Integration and Modelling (GAIM) Task Force and WCRP's Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM). The majority of this work is carried out by IGBP, IHDP and WCRP.

The next step is to integrate human dimensions into Earth System analysis and modelling, as is being done by two initiatives. The Oslo Group (TOG) is an IGBP-IHDP network exploring theoretical and methodological aspects of natural-social science integration. Another initiative being carried out by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) aims to develop fully integrated carbon cycle models that couple biophysical processes with the dynamics of energy systems, land-use change, and institutional/political change.

The implications of changes in biodiversity for Earth System functioning will be integrated into such efforts in due course.

Regional Activities

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Regional activities are important to ESSP’s mandate on several levels. Current knowledge demonstrates that, at the regional level, aspects of global change manifest significantly different—yet surprisingly coherent and teleconnected—Earth System dynamics. These are often broadly associated with socio-economic and geopolitical characteristics.

ESSP Regional Activities also seek to directly address the differences in scientific capabilities in various regions of the world. Each of the four global change programmes organizes research activities and capacity-building initiatives, and helps establish scientific networks. ESSP Partners also collaborate closely with the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN).

At present, ESSP sponsors two types of regional activities:

  • The global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START) carries out regional research projects and promotes networking, often in collaboration with its sponsoring programmes (IGBP, IHDP and WCRP), as well as with IAI and APN. START also undertakes specific capacity-building activities, including training workshops and institutes, a fellowship scheme, and guest lectureships.
  • ESSP is currently developing a small set of Integrated Regional Studies (IRS), designed to contribute sound scientific understanding in support of sustainable development at the local level. These studies will also improve overall knowledge of regional-global linkages in the context of Earth System dynamics. The first study is in Monsoon Asia (MAIRS). The Joint Projects, START and MAIRS all have a strong suite of capacity building and networking elements to their activities. ESSP Partners also collaborate closely with the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).

Global Change Open Science Conferences

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ESSP recognizes the importance of broad interaction amongst the many scientists that contribute to its activities. As such, the Partnership is committed to hosting major international science meetings every five years. The first ESSP Open Science Conference, Challenges of a Changing Earth, was held in Amsterdam in July 2001.

ESSP is organizing the second Open Science Conference Global Environmental Change: Regional Challenges in Beijing, China; 9-12 November 2006, to present progress in our understanding of the natural and social systems of global environmental change and to highlight the ESSP approach to the study of the Earth System.


• advances in our understanding of the physical, biogeochemical, biodiversity and human dimensions aspects of global environmental change.
• science in support of sustainability with emphasis on global environmental change as it relates to food, water, carbon and human health.
• dynamics, impacts and consequences of the interactions between natural and social systems at regional scales, including extreme events, and how they connect to global-scale phenomena.
• global environmental change in monsoon Asia.


We invite scientists, policy makers, practitioners, scholars, members of the private sector and journalists to participate in this Conference and to submit proposals for sessions and abstracts.

Please visit the conference website for more information. Click here to download the 1st Circular (July 2005)
Click here to download the second circular (May 2006)

Prior to the main Conference, the 2nd International Young Scientists’ Global Change Conference (7-8 November 2006), organised by START will provide an opportunity for selected young scientists to present and discuss their work.

Click here for more information

Download the press release in English, French, Spanish and Chinese.

Click here for the conference statement of the ESSP Open Science Conference and here for the conference highlights.

A Commitment to Science Communication

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ESSP's scientific activities are supported by active science communication efforts, which are an essential aspect of the Partnership's overarching goals of generating, disseminating, and applying new knowledge. Current activities include publication of a report series and development of tools to raise awareness of ESSP amongst the science community (website, brochure, poster, and PowerPoint presentation).


Last updated: 29 November 2006

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