Dr Umberto Mario Sconfienza

Postdoc Research Fellow

Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research
Schifferstraße 44
47059 Duisburg

E-Mail: sconfumberto@gmail.com


Dr Umberto Mario Sconfienza joined the research group 'Global Cooperation and Polycentric Governance' in January 2020 and was a Postdoc Research Fellow at the Centre until December 2020.


Research Project at the Centre

The Post-Sustainability Trilemma

The purpose of the research project is threefold: first, to propose a new theoretical framework to describe and understand current global environmental politics; second, to heuristically use this framework to analyse and criticise current approaches to environmental governance; and third, to explore alternatives approaches. The first part of the research introduces what can be called the Post-Sustainability Trilemma (PST). This is the idea that the three policy goals of (i) economic growth, (ii) political participation - along the lines of liberal democracies -, and (iii) environmental protection cannot be simultaneously attained. Only two of these three policy goals can be attained at any one time. The second part of the research analyses the three possible combinations or binaries of PST, which give rise to three different governance approaches:

  • business as usual/ecomodernism: economic growth + political freedoms (without environmental protection);
  • post-growth approaches: participation + environmental protection (without economic growth)
  • environmental authoritarianism: economic growth + environmental protection (without political freedoms).

Finally, the research questions whether and under what conditions PST truly stands. PST assumes that at least two policy goals can always be obtained. This is, in itself, a debatable, and debated, claim. In this sense, PST, as a description of current approaches to environmental governance, might be considered an over-optimistic framework. These considerations open up a space to argue that, given the set of policy possibilities offered by PST, global governance of environmental policy - especially climate change - might be more difficult to achieve than previously thought.

Current Projects

  • The Post-Sustainability Trilemma
  • Framing environmental policy: the role of European think-tanks

Research Interests

  • Environmental politics
  • Political philosophy
  • Climate change  
  • Environmental governance


01/2018 – 12/2019

Cluster of Excellence “Normative Orders” at the Goethe University Frankfurt

Post-doctoral research fellow

01/2013 – 12/2017

Tilburg University

Department of International and European Public Law

PhD Student

A selection of publications

2020. Incomplete Ecological Futures, World Futures, 76 (1), 17–38.

2019. The Post-Sustainability Trilemma, Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 21 (6), 769–784

2019. Ecomodernist metaphors: What They Reveal and What They Hide, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 9 (2), 247–249

2017. What can Environmental Narratives Tell Us about Forestry Conflicts? The Case of REDD+, International Forestry Review, 19 (S1), 98–112

2015. The Narrative of Public Participation in Environmental Governance and Its Normative Presuppositions, Review of European, Comparative, International, Environmental Law (RECIEL), 24 (2), 139–151

Seminars and Conferences

The Environmental Trilemma and Its Pitfalls. 6th International Degrowth Conference 'Dialogues in Turbulent Times', Malmo, 21–25 August 2018

The Environmental Trilemma and Its Pitfalls. Legal Theory Seminar, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 27 March 2018

The Environmental Trilemma and Its Pitfalls. Politics seminar series, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 31 January 2018

Commodification and Growth Assumptions within Radical Environmentalism Scholarship, Scuola Superiore di Catania (University of Catania), Catania, 25–27 June 2015

Marketization of Nature and 'Environmental Blackmail': A Post-Colonialist Perspective. 11th Conference of the International Society for Environmental Ethics 'Environmental Philosophy and the Anthropocene Epoch', State University of Colorado, Allesnpark (CO), 17–20 June 2014

Marketization of Nature and 'Environmental Blackmail': A Post-Colonialist Perspective. Poster presentation at the Conference 'Climate Change Research in Practice: Addressing Speed, Scale and Scope', Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, Manchester, 23–25 April 2014