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Reflections on the Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance

Day 1 at the Winter School. Photo credit: Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development UU

In November, the Earth System Governance (ESG) Project hosted a Winter School at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The five-day Winter School took place in advance of the ESG Conference (read Emma Lecavalier’s summary of the conference here). The School provided an opportunity for early career researchers to engage with the themes of the Project’s new Science and Implementation Plan, both through a series of lectures given by senior researchers and through peer review sessions on participants’ own work. Each day of the School was dedicated to one of the Plan’s core themes: (i) anticipation and imagination, (ii) adaptiveness and purposeful change, (iii) architecture and agency, (iv) democracy and power, and (v) justice and allocation.

I had the privilege of being able to attend the Winter School and was inspired to learn about the latest research in the field. It pains me to only mention a few of the speakers, but I will, just to give you a glimpse of the work being done in this community (for a full list of speakers, visit the School’s webpage). From Marie Claire Brisbois, we learned about the role of power in decentralized renewable energy transitions; from James Patterson, the institutional innovation of cities working on climate change adaptation; and from Maarten Hajer, the potential for experimentation in ‘soft spaces’ to shape narratives around renewable energy and the future. Fittingly, on the final day of the School, we were challenged by Sonja Klinsky to reflect on our role as scholars engaging in climate justice.

Frank Biermann’s opening address to the Winter School. Photo credit: Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development UU

In the afternoons we discussed and learned about strategies and initiatives to overcome challenges facing early career researchers – topics ranged from publishing to personal wellbeing. I especially appreciated the attention to both individual and collective initiatives (for example, Global Policy’s Next Generation project). We also found time each day to meet with a peer to discuss our own research. It was refreshing to give and receive feedback about our works-in-progress in a low-stakes and collegial environment.

In short, the School provided a great way to connect early career researchers working across disciplines on similar issues or using similar methods. I would highly recommend the Winter School for early career researchers engaging with the themes of the ESG Project in their work. Early (and mid-level) career researchers can also apply to become ESG Research Fellows (more information here).