Governance Institutions for Sustainability in Globally Telecoupled Systems

PhD fellow: Johanna Coenen

Leuphana University of Lüneburg

About me

After studying abroad, I am now back in my home country to do a PhD at Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany. I received a Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a focus on International Relations and Sustainable Development from University College Maastricht and a Master degree in Political Science with a specialisation in Global Environmental Governance from VU University Amsterdam.

The aim of my research project is to understand how public policies reinforce land use change and associated environmental and social problems far beyond their territorial borders, as well as how state actors (e.g. individual states or collection of states) and non-state actors (e.g. firms, NGOs or investors) can effectively respond to the sustainability challenges which arise from global production and consumption processes that span multiple geographical and institutional boundaries. A central challenge is to identify the key actors and institutions involved intelecouplings in order to study which policy interventions and governance arrangements are decisive for the prevention, emergence, detection, coordination and transformation of inter-regionally related land systems. 

The COUPLED project provides me with the unique opportunity to take part in a timely, interdisciplinary and challenging academic discussion that contributes to the development of effective governance and policy tools for sustainable land use.

My aim is to identify which actors, institutions and policy instruments are decisive for the prevention, emergence, detection, coordination and transformation of telecoupled land systems.


Globally telecoupled systems such as commodity chains, long-range pollution or distant policy-driven effects present complex new challenges for sustainability governance. These are often beyond the capabilities of individual states and even multilateral institutions to regulate. At the same time, the policy and governance interventions of governments and other actors themselves often have a range of unforeseen consequences and knock-on effects. Taking European Union (EU) environmental policy as its primary vantage point, this research will:

  • Identify key institutions, networks of actors and instruments deployed to govern for sustainability in specific case studies of telecoupled systems (e.g. global trade and supply chains and networks), and
  • Assess their impacts with particular attention to so-called ‘policy-driven displacement’ effects, policy spillovers and feed-backs (e.g. increased deforestation resulting from EU biofuels policy).
  • On the basis of this analysis, the research will identify governance levers for effective intervention at multiple levels (from multilateral to local) and among different actors (e.g. governmental, private sector, civil society) to address policy-driven displacement effects.

In carrying out this work, the research will:

  • Conduct interviews and documentary research to chart networks and key actors and structures associated with EU efforts to govern for sustainability in telecoupled systems (focusing on certain specific cases such as agricultural commodity chains or raw resource flows),
  • Analyse and assess the effectiveness (success factors/barriers, social/environmental impacts) of different governance arrangements and their unintended policy-driven displacement effects, and
  • Propose potential policy and governance interventions for increased sustainability in telecoupled systems.

Principal Supervisor: Jens Newig (Leuphana University Lüneburg)


Johanna Coenen

Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Universitätsallee 1, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany