Research into ‘Earth System Science’ (ESS) over the last decade, not the least in the context of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP), clearly demonstrate that human activities are thoroughly and rapidly changing climate, bio-geochemical cycles and ecosystem functions at the global scale.

Such large and rapid changes in our biophysical environment feed back on human living conditions, and are likely to do so with an increasing strength during the 21st century. Human societies must, and will attempt to, adapt to these changes, as well as make use of new opportunities offered by them. Thus, human and biophysical subsystems of the ‘Earth System’ are intimately connected and interact strongly. The emergent properties of this coupled human-biophysical system are poorly known, yet of crucial importance for understanding the prospects for human welfare in the future, as well as for developing suitable, sustainable policies at all spatial and temporal scales.