Global Commons Stewardship Framework 

New Global Commons Stewardship Framework charts path toward a prosperous future that promotes peace and prosperity

 The Center for Global Commons, together with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and SYSTEMIQ, sets out an actionable, science-based framework for Global Commons stewardship


 The scientific evidence is overwhelming: we are on a collision course with the stable and resilient Earth systems on which human wellbeing, prosperity and safety depend—our Global Commons. We need to transform our economic and social systems to safeguard these Global Commons or risk exceeding dangerous tipping points beyond which ecological damage may become self-reinforcing and irreversible. To avoid these tipping points, decision-makers need to take concerted action to drastically accelerate the progress made in some sectors and unlock positive tipping points for transformation.

To inspire and guide decisionmakers from governments, business and finance, civil society and international organizations, the Center for Global Commons at the University of Tokyo, with support from SYSTEMIQ, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), has developed the Global Commons Stewardship Framework. Drawing on the latest science, this framework for action can bring together stakeholders, promote transformations and inform deft diplomacy in support of security and the Global Commons.

Naoko Ishii, Executive Vice President, Director for Center for Global Commons at University of Tokyo, explains: “To avert the collapse of the complex and interdependent Earth systems on which human health, prosperity and security rely, the world needs to make unprecedented progress across four system transformations simultaneously. The Global Commons Stewardship Framework cuts through the complexity of this daunting task by outlining concrete actions for decisionmakers that leverage political, social and economic forces to rapidly advance coordinated progress to preserve and restore our Global Commons.”

The Global Commons Stewardship Framework is organized around four system transformations: decarbonization of energy, industry and transport; sustainable cities and communities; sustainable production and consumption; and sustainable food, forests, land, water and oceans. Each in turn can be activated through four common action levers. The report sets out calls for action that will help different stakeholders drive the four transformations to safeguard the Global Commons.

Recent progress on climate change can provide valuable lessons, as the ‘Paris effect’ has accelerated action and mobilised multistakeholder coalitions, says Guido Schmidt-Traub, Managing Partner of SYSTEMIQ. “Based on this understanding and drawing on the latest science, the Global Commons Stewardship Framework charts the common solutions and clear actions that are required to preserve the health and resilience of these Earth systems.”

At present, however, the world is failing to act at a scale and speed needed to avoid dangerous tipping points. “The report outlines the system transformations needed to limit warming to 1.5°C. These are not happening fast enough. Of the 40 indicators assessed by the System Change Lab, none is on track to reach the 2030 targets. Time is not on our side,” cautions Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

It might seem far-fetched to advocate for a stronger focus on the Global Commons at a time when the world’s attention is set on the war in Ukraine  and the terrible human suffering that is unfolding as a result. Countries are racing to increase their military spending. Fissures in the international community and divisions between major powers are growing wider. The war is generating shortages and crises for the many countries that depend on imports of energy, food and fertilizer.

“The unchecked degradation of our Global Commons will act as a threat multiplier: Exploiting soils and seas, ever expanding pastures and fields, and heating our planet leads to displacement, exacerbates food and water insecurity, and eventually fuels conflict. We need to realize that healthy and resilient biophysical systems on Earth—our Global Commons—are at the heart of our health, security and prosperity. And we must work together to manage them responsibly,” highlights Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We cannot afford to allow international cooperation to become another casualty of the war in Ukraine”, says Guido Schmidt-Traub, Managing Partner of SYSTEMIQ. “It is impossible to tackle these challenges without greater international cooperation—a point that has been reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries need security from outside aggression and from the degradation of the Global Commons. This will require new governance mechanisms for Global Commons stewardship that can facilitate effective collaboration toward this shared purpose.”

Ensuring the health and resilience of the Global Commons is in the interests of all nations, but some countries bear a disproportionate responsibility. This is made clear by the Global Commons Stewardship Index published by the SDSN and Yale University, which shows that rich countries are driving adverse impacts on the Global Commons in less developed countries. “The prosperity of rich countries partly depends on unsustainable production and consumption patterns that generate negative spillovers on poorer countries. Developed countries have the responsibility and the resources to lead the system transformations needed to safeguard the Global Commons. They must work together with all countries to develop equal and mutually beneficial partnerships built on diplomacy, investment and trade that value, preserve and restore the Global Commons,” says Guillaume Lafortune, Vice President, SDSN.


Paul Polman, business leader, campaigner and co-author of Net Positive

“The preservation and restoration of the Global Commons on which our shared prosperity depends is a monumental task¾ one which we can only achieve, if businesses become a force for good and being a force for good is good for business. While the ‘Race to Zero’ on carbon emissions is well underway, it is difficult for business leaders and other decisionmakers to grasp the complex interconnections and tradeoffs between different Global Commons, like the climate system and land biosphere. The framework in this report cuts through this complexity and provides a tangible, science-based action agenda for decisionmakers to bring about the transformations required to preserve our Global Commons.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University

“The challenges of economic development, social inclusion, and the health of Earth systems are intimately linked, as are the sustainable development solutions. Economic wellbeing and environmental sustainability must not be in conflict. The Global Commons Stewardship Framework recognizes this core truth and establishes an action plan for a just and sustainable transition that benefits all parts of society and helps to reduce inequalities both within and among nations.”

Feike Sijbesma, former CEO Royal DSM, co-chair Global Climate Adaptation Centers, Board Philips and Unilever

“Today, many business leaders understand the clear scientific evidence for potentially calamitous environmental risks. The art is however how link the business goals and core competencies to it. In other words: how to do well (business-wise/financially) by doing good (for society). By outlining system transformations as well as action levers, the framework described helps to translate the science into concrete actions for business. The private sector will be essential to financing and driving these transformations to preserve the health and resilience of our Global Commons. Understanding the real costs and opportunities for purpose-driven business models should be near the top of board agendas.”

Nick Stern, Professor of Economics, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics

“The Global Commons are the foundation for our continued prosperity on this planet. To preserve the health and resilience of these Earth systems, deep transformations of our economic and social systems are required. This framework builds on the scientific evidence and lessons from international progress on decarbonization to outline four system transformations, alongside the action levers that can unlock the economic, political and social change needed to achieve sustainable development within planetary boundaries.”

Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the UN International Resource Panel

“This report provides a compelling overview of the way in which human activity, and resource consumption in particular, are shaping the Global Commons. Spillover impacts from consumption and trade are driven by rich countries, while much of the damage and most vulnerable populations are concentrated in less developed regions. To avoid a global ‘tragedy of the commons’, we need coordinated management across countries, with a particular responsibility falling to high-income countries. The framework points toward the transformations and actions stakeholders need to take to achieve this, including demand-side measures that can reduce environmental destruction without undermining human wellbeing.”

Nigel Topping, High Level Champion for Climate Action, COP26

“Companies are transitioning toward a zero-emissions economy by setting science-based targets, reallocating capital, driving innovation and investing in new business models. This process has been accelerated by the Paris Agreement and resulted in an impressive array of multistakeholder coalitions that are transforming industries. While successful decarbonization is far from assured, this report highlights that we need to learn from these promising successes to develop effective governance mechanisms to safeguard the Global Commons on which our continued health, prosperity and security depend.”


Full report

Safeguarding the Global Commons for human prosperity and environmental sustainability

The framework is one of the policy recommendations of UTokyo Institute for Future Initiatives

May 19th, 2022
Back PageTop