The organizations and mechanisms by which humans govern their relationship with the natural environment and global biogeochemical systems are not only inadequate, they are also poorly understood. New types of governance systems – earth system governance – are needed to cope with the negative impacts of human activities and achieve a sustainable co-evolution of humans and nature. Earth system governance implies a transformation towards integrated governance systems that include people, places, networks and organizations at all levels. Earth system governance research is pertinent to many public policy areas such as reforming the UN, making sense of the multiple agreements that are failing to tackle climate change and ensuring accountability and legitimacy at every level.