Global Commons & Sustainability

The global commons are the foundations of life. Among these shared natural resources are the oceans and deep sea, the atmosphere, and the Polar Regions. Despite our dependency on them, humanity has failed to protect the global commons. A working group at the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 will develop recommendations for their sustainable management.

Working Group

Global commons, sustainability, and the role of science

Marine pollution, the dramatic decline in the diversity and abundance of insects, and the clearance of vast tracts of rainforest are bringing the global commons into the public eye. There is a growing awareness that the numerous and intertwining impacts of their neglect are resulting in the gradual loss of the natural resources necessary for human and animal life. Harms to global commons always entail harms to entire processes that maintain the resilience and stability of the global ecosystem.

The exact definition of global commons varies across scientific, political and social discourses. Within the scope of our work, the term encompasses international, supranational, and global environmental resources that are of fundamental significance for global sustainable development.

Obstacles to the sustainable use of the global commons

A number of factors influence the mismanagement of global commons and there is an urgent need to clarify the political responsibilities of national actors in relation to these common pool resources. However, the international community is still a long way from resolving these issues and few effective institutional regulations exist at the global level.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers the most comprehensive approach yet for the protection of global commons. The resolution emphasises that the preservation of the commons is fundamental for the achievement of numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that political structures and processes (governance) must be realigned in order to achieve this. Science can play an important role in this process by analysing interactions between SDGs and global commons and identifying synergies to foster the development and expansion of effective and intertwined structures and processes.


Die genaue Definition von Global Commons variiert in verschiedenen wissenschaftlichen, politischen und gesellschaftlichen Diskursen. Im Rahmen der Wissenschaftsplattform werden mit dem Begriff Umweltressourcen adressiert, die eine grundlegende Bedeutung und grenzüberschreitende Funktionen für eine globale nachhaltige Entwicklung haben.

Was die nachhaltige Nutzung von Global Commons so schwierig macht

Was die nachhaltige Nutzung von Global Commons besonders schwierig macht: Politische Verantwortungsfragen über nationale Grenzen hinweg müssen dringend geklärt werden, doch davon ist die Weltgemeinschaft noch weit entfernt – auf globaler Ebene gibt es bislang kaum wirksame institutionelle Regelungen.

Die Agenda 2030 der Vereinten Nationen bietet indes den bisher umfassendsten Ansatz für den Schutz von Global Commons. Sie macht deutlich, dass der Erhalt der Commons grundlegend ist für das Erreichen zahlreicher Nachhaltigkeitsziele (SDGs) und dass dafür politische Strukturen und Prozesse (Governance) neujustiert werden müssen. Die Wissenschaft kann hierbei eine wichtige Rolle spielen – indem sie Wechselwirkungen zwischen den SDGs und Global Commons genauer analysiert sowie Synergien herausarbeitet, die den Auf- und Ausbau von wirksam ineinandergreifenden politischen Strukturen und Prozessen fördern können.

Exchange in transdisciplinary events

Background analyses based on these questions will be developed for each of the four areas of global commons and subsequently explored in discussions at transdisciplinary events. A final report will summarise the overall results and their implications for sustainability policy in Germany.

Processes and dialogues for the sustainable use of Global Commons

The Science Platform feeds its results directly into the political processes for implementing the German Strategy for Sustainable Development and the global 2030 Agenda. Efforts to promote more effective political processes for the protection of global commons, as well as the improved integration of scientific results, is also one of the group’s areas of work.

Tackling the challenge of global commons

The working group studies existing international political processes to protect global commons, develops actionable policy recommendations that will improve governance structures, and communicates relevant research deficits to the scientific community. Research conducted under its auspices contributes to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the German Strategy for Sustainable Development.

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