Environmental Change as Societal Crisis

Environmental change such as climate change, biodiversity loss, increase of frequency of natural disasters is one of the key challenges of modern societies. A lot of research from various disciplinary and interdisciplinary views has been done to uncover drivers, pressures and states of the change on the one hand and the management responses on the other hand. However, continuous rise of environmental effects, declining environmental resources and growing risks to human health and well-being indicate a lack of effectiveness of current prevention, mitigation and conservation efforts. Reasons for that might be knowledge gaps or gaps between knowledge and action.

Against this background, conceptualisation of these issues as ‘crisis’ may have the potential of advanced understanding and finally lead to advice on transformation in environmental management and governance towards sustainable development. So far, there are only a view attempts to explicitly conceptualise environmental change as a societal crisis. Thus, there is a lack of theoretical foundation of environmental crisis with its delineation from related concepts such as environmental risk. The study of environmental change as a crisis is especially supposed to shed light on limitations of governance settings with institutions, actors and networks also referring to the connectivity between different policy levels.

The project puts the following three objectives in the centre: First to review the state of the art in disciplines and research fields relevant for understanding environmental change as societal crisis; second to develop a conceptual framework on environmental change as societal crisis considering social, ecological, economic and political issues and focussing on complexity and uncertainty; third to test this framework through analysis of existing studies on real-world cases of environmental change and its management.

Participating Institutes

Leibniz Institute for ecological urban and regional Development (IÖR)

Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS)

Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS)


Prof. Dr. Jochen Schanze (IÖR)

Dr. Gérard Hutter (IÖR)

Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann (IRS)

Prof. Dr. Andreas Macke (TROPOS)

Project term

03/2017 - 12/2018