Humanity’s shared resources

The global commons of the Anthropoceneranging from rainforests to oceans and glaciersare essential for the stability and resilience of our planet. Researchers from the Transitions to New Technologies Program and collaborators explored the changing nature of these global commons in the 21st century, in a paper published at the request of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

‘Global commons’ are resources shared by all on Earth. They include natural resources such as the oceans and the atmosphere, along with human-made phenomena such as cyberspace. Traditional definitions rooted in international law state that to be ‘global’ the commons must lie outside national jurisdiction.

The Global Commons in the Anthropocene concept builds upon advances in research and in the international environmental and development policy process of the past decades.

But the stability and resilience of the planet are influenced not only by the resources shared among nations. All ecosystems, biomes, and processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system are common to humanity: they are the new ‘global commons of the Anthropocene.’ These are both global commons as recognized under international law but also resources within national jurisdictions, such as rainforests, sea ice, mangroves, and biodiversity [1].

In a 2016, researchers from the IIASA Transitions to new Technologies Program published a paper entitled “Global Commons in the Anthropocene: World Development on a Stable and Resilient Planet” exploring the changing nature of the global commons in the 21st century. The paper, written in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, was requested by the GEF and the IUCN to complement their new initiative Our Global Commons.

The paper was launched at a science-policy conference International Dialogue on the Global Commons, convened at the US National Academy of Sciences jointly by GEF and IUCN. The conference kick-started a broader dialogue on the need to reassess the global commons at all scales in light of the growing human pressures on Earth’s life-support systems and to renew efforts to develop a roadmap to manage the commons for the benefit of humanity.


[1] Nakicenovic N, Rockström J, Gaffney O, & Zimm C (2016). Global Commons in the Anthropocene: World Development on a Stable and Resilient Planet. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-16-019.

[2] Jackson RB, Canadell JG, Le Quere C, Andrew RM, Korsbakken JI, Peters GP, & Nakicenovic N (2016). Reaching peak emissions. Nature Climate Change 6 (1): 7-10.

[3] Watson R, Carraro C, Canziani P, Nakicenovic N, McCarthy JJ, Goldemberg J, & Hisas L (2016). The Truth About Climate Change. Fundación Ecológica Universal (FEU) , Argentina.

[4] Fuß S, Jones CD, Kraxner F, Peters GP, Smith P, Tavoni M, van Vuuren DP, Canadell JG, et al. (2016). Research priorities for negative emissions. Environmental Research Letters 11 (11): p. 115007

[5] Smith P, Davis SJ, Creutzig F, Fuss S, Rogelj J, McCollum D, Krey V, Grubler A, et al. (2016). Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions. Nature Climate Change 6 (1): 42-50.

IIASA contributors

  • Nebojsa Nakicenovic
  • Caroline Zimm


  • Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
  • Owen Gaffney, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden

Further collaborators: GEF-Team under lead of GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii, IUCN Team under the lead of IUCN Inger Andersen, Earth League Members