[New paper] Planetary boundaries intra muros: Cities and the Anthropocene

Published 9 July 2020


With the growing realisation that the inter-state system may fail us in the struggle to keep a safe distance from planetary boundaries, the need to find alternative governance models is more acute than ever.

Should cities and urban governance take the lead in confronting the governance challenges of the Anthropocene, the current geological age, in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment?

A new SSRN paper, "Planetary Boundaries Intra Muros: Cities and the Anthropocene", co-authored by Asser academic director Janne E. Nijman and Helmut Philippe Aust (Freie Universität Berlin), explores his question. Download it here.

At first sight, the relationship between planetary boundaries and cities might be obscure. Closely related to the concept of the Anthropocene, responding to the planetary boundaries in a holistic and integrated manner seems to call for global solutions. Yet, it is important to downscale governance approaches, if only to solicit support for these attempts at all levels of governance. But what can cities and their governance offer in this respect? This chapter canvasses the relationship between cities, planetary boundaries and the Anthropocene. It portrays some of the many promises that a turn to the city seems to bring in this respect, in particular through forms of innovative urban governance. However, the chapter contextualises these promises and looks at some of the potential shortcomings that are associated with the recent adoration of cities as more responsible and benign units of governance. The chapter ultimately shows how cities are inevitable bundled up in the processes which bring us closer to the planetary boundaries and which have created the Anthropocene. The planetary boundaries run right through them. Read more.

Janne Nijman is member of the board and academic director of the Asser Institute. She also serves as Professor of History and Theory of International law at the University of Amsterdam, and as Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Nijman is the programme leader of ‘The Global City: Challenges, Trust and the Role of (International) Law’ at the Asser Institute, which consists of four individual PhD research projects and is supported by the Gieskes Strijbis Foundation. Together with Helmut Aust, Professor for Public Law and Internationalisation of Law at the Freie Universität Berlin), Janne Nijman co-chairs the ILA Study Group on 'The Role of Cities in International law.

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