Rencontres de Reims


Since 2011, the Rheims University’s International Research Center on Sustainability (IRCS) organizes every year the Rheims International Conference on Sustainability Studies. This event brings together international experts, whose work focuses on various aspects of sustainability.

This year, the 6th Rencontres Internationales de Reims on Sustainability Studies will be held on Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 October 2016 on the theme of “Underground Cities – Living Below the Surface: Supporting Urban Transition to Sustainablity”.

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Rencontres 2016 -

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Past Editions


Rencontres 2015 - Urban Agriculture: Fostering the Urban-Rural Continuum

Urban sustainability should be inclusive, in the sense that it should address sustainability in an area large enough to encompass urban centers, but suburban, periurban and dependent rural, or natural places. There is an urban arrangement that can address this urban-rural continuum while deeply transforming urban systems conditions to foster a more sustainable future: Urban agriculture. Urban agriculture postulates that some type of agriculture may flourish within the city. It considers that urban multifunctionality should also include farming. As a matter of fact, Urban agriculture is not such a fresh idea. It existed for centuries in very different places around the world, such as the chinampas in Tenochtitlan — the actual Mexico city — since the 15th century or sooner, the hortillonnages in Amiens — a French city north of Paris — for more than twenty centuries, or the interstitial gardens (agriculture d’interstice) of Yaoundé — Cameroon’s capital — which accompanied the foundation of the city in the 19th century.

But what should be the objectives of urban agriculture in planning? Community gardens, kitchen gardens, food farming, for example, are three different things, completely. The types of urban agriculture that exist in a city vary a lot according to the climate, the cultural background, the economic and social situation of the city, etc. In many urban areas of Central America or India, urban agriculture is essentially a food security issue, related to fight against poverty and malnutrition. The situation is quite different in European or North American cities. There, urban agriculture is mainly seen as a social innovation that contributes to improving the quality of life, fostering social links among neighbors, and enhancing urban landscapes. It is not so much about food, really. The main expressions of this approach are community gardens and kitchen gardens. Theses last years, there has been, in developed countries, a growing proliferation of projects promoting urban farming architectures, such as Agritecture, or Tree-Like Skyscrapers and Vertical Farming —cultivating plants or breeding animals within tall greenhouse buildings or vertically inclined surfaces —. At the same time, urban rooftop farms are epitomized by the mainstream medias as the paragon of urban agriculture. Is it still urban agriculture, or is it something else? Besides, may urban agriculture be the cornerstone that helps reconfigure urban areas, and the backbone of a new and more sustainable urban arrangement to foster urban transition to sustainability in the urban-rural continuum, or not? Here are some of the issues that hase been tackled at the 5th Rencontres Internationales de Reims on Sustainability Studies.

François Mancebo (director of the IRCS IATEUR)

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Rencontres 2014 - Urban Transitions to Sustainability

The theme of this 4th edition of the International Rencontres de Reims in Sustainability Studies was ‘Urban Transitions to Sustainability’.

Nearly 70% of the world population lives in urban areas and nearly 75% of economic activity is located therein. Urban areas concentrate not only wealth but also extreme poverty and environmental degradation. Despite the significant progress in urbanization, still a billion people live in the slums of urban areas. The issue of urban transitions to sustainability is a major challenge. In Europe, the 2007 Leipzig Charter puts “sustainable cities” on top of the agenda for sustainability. Two years later, the situation report of the European Commission on the European Union Sustainable Development Strategy considers the issue of “Sustainable Cities” as a major axis.

Nevertheless, these initiatives should not lead to a standardized approach to urban transitions to sustainability, but rather to recognize and promote the diversity of paths that lead to sustainable cities. Despite differences in history, type of development, size and heritage, cities still have an unexplored potential in adaptability.

Even if there are several means and pathways for the transition towards sustainability of urban areas, heuristic tools are still needed to help cities to take decisions and assess their relevance. What kind of issues, convergences and disagreements do transitions towards sustainability of urban areas face today? That is the topic of the 4th Rheims International Conference in Sustainability Studies.

This 4th edition of the Rencontres Internationales de Reims on Sustainability Studies was organized around three complementary events:

  • A “residential” international seminar…
  • …followed by a conference open to the public
  • A “parallel” summer school
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4th Rencontres


Urban Transition to Sustainability

24-26 June 2014

Rencontres 2013 - Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a New Social Contract

Hosted at the University of Reims on June 19-21, 2013
Organized by HABITER Lab. with the participation of Ignacy Sachs and Carlo Rubbia.

In 2013, the United Nations will take stock of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It is inevitable that the question of what to do next will be asked. What to do after the expiry of the MDG in 2015? The goal of the Third Rencontres Internationales de Reims in Sustainability Studies is to contribute to this debate, to produce some elements to answer to this question about sustainability. Particular attention will be paid to environmental governance, regional development and social justice.

The Millennium Declaration proclaimed the “collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level” . Of course, but how to go beyond lip service and do it concretely? More precisely, how to take into consideration new global phenomena such as and of the dimension of climate change, the depletion of natural resources, financial crises, demographic dynamics, migrations and mobility.

Moreover, the political, environmental and economic context has deeply changed. Emerging countries have become the center of all attentions, given that their economies make the world go around. In the mean time, disparities among developing countries and within them are still too high. Environmental performance indicators greatly suffered at the same time, particularly in developing countries. With the diffusion of the transition to sustainability, new actors have emerged, especially in the private, associative and local sphere. They joined traditional institutional actors such as states and international organizations. It is not an accident that the two major topics of Rio+20—during which the negotiations of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals were launched—were “the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and “the institutional framework for sustainable development.”

Indeed, the institutional framework for sustainable development is not yet very stable, as shown by the Second Rencontres de Reims in Sustainability Studies last September. In particular, the recurring question of coordination mechanisms – be it at the local, regional, national or international level – is far from settled. But that’s not all: the effectiveness of sustainable policies lies largely in their acceptance, in their collective appropriation, which is indirectly related to institutional arrangements. To think about post-2015 also means—in the tercentenary of the birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—to define a new social contract and to include stakeholders, neighborhood communities and groups of individuals capable of forming voluntary associations among the major players of sustainable development.

To determine the conditions and forms of this new social contract is the third objective of the Third Rencontres Internationales de Reims in Sustainability Studies. This is done in the footsteps of Elinor Ostrom, who showed that communities of interest or neighborhoods could be more effective in collectively managing commons than the market or traditional organizational structures.

It is important, in fact, in order to shape truly sustainable policies, to define what constitutes a “good” environment for the societies involved: one in which the improvement of environmental conditions strictly speaking (water quality, air pollution, biodiversity, rational use of resources, soils and energy, etc.) will lead to the improvement of living conditions; one in which technical devices and technologies, deployed in spaces large enough to accommodate imported sustainability, may be appropriate through new lifestyles.

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3rd Rencontres


Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals:
Towards a New Social Contract

19-20 June 2013

Rencontres 2012 - After Rio+20, when planning becomes democratic

This year’s Rio Conference on Sustainable Development echoes the summit that took place in 1992. It is entitled “Rio+20”, as if a simple and direct line connected 1992 to 2012. In twenty years, however, the world has changed a lot. It became globalized and the centers of production of wealth have shifted. Today, the economic and political rise of emerging countries takes place against the backdrop of a four-fold environmental, social, financial and political crisis among old industrial countries. This phenomenon goes hand in hand with a growing gap in wealth and increasing asymmetries between the capability of actors and populations from local communities to the whole planet.

On the other hand, the sustainable development that was put into action at the 1992 conference has largely spread within society, sometimes in an invasive manner, and its content is not anymore the exact same. At last, in the past twenty years, the conscience of the environmental, economic and social challenges of our planet and its inhabitants has greatly evolved.

In fact, in August 2012, the International Commission on Stratigraphy recognized that we have entered, since the 19th century, a new era of the Earth’s history: the anthropocene. Human activity has become the main determining factor of the state of the planet, from its biosphere to its land, from its climate to its seas. This has a huge symbolic import. How to better highlight, in a globalized world, the responsibility of human societies vis-à-vis the future of “spaceship Earth” (to use the expression of the ecologist Howard T. Odum)? The two great themes of the new Rio Conference refer to these new realities:

  • The “green” economy as an instrument to reduce poverty;
  • The institutional and organizational framework of sustainable development.

It is clear that the current institutional framework of sustainable development is not properly defined. It is also particularly ineffective at whatever scale. The required tools are missing. The recurring issue of coordination mechanisms—at the local, regional, national or international level—is far from being solved. The second “Rencontres Internationales de Reims” in Sustainability Studies** tries to contribute to this debate.

Four months after Rio+20, the aim is more to discuss the consequences of Rio than to understand what happened. This will be done starting from the following questions: which governances to combine social justice and the transition to sustainability? Engaging which parties? Thus —and it is a tip of the hat to Jean-Jacques Rousseau this year’s celebration of its birth— the objective here is to reconsider the social contract.

Thinking about these governances clearly reaffirms the need for planning, conceived as the construction of a long term democratic project, taking place simultaneously in its social, environmental and spatial dimension. This is not the normative, prescriptive, mostly technical planning that failed in the past, but of a planning where the populations concerned are the main actors and that has the following elements at its heart:

  • Coupled human-environmental systems (HES);
  • Participative processes to construct political decisions;
  • New information models integrating uncertainty.

This kind of planning is therefore and first of all a political process corresponding to the following questions which are crucial for the implementation of sustainable development: which kind of society do we want to live in? Which compromises between the goals and interests of the different groups? Which articulation between one decision-making level and the other? The second “Rencontres Internationales de Reims” in Sustainability Studies will try to address these questions.

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2nd Rencontres


Which Systems of Governance for Which Sustainability after Rio+20?

26-27 September 2012

Rencontres 2011 - Social Justice and Sustainability: Back to Planning?

Hosted at the University of Reims on June 22-23, 2011
Organized by HABITER Lab. with the participation of Ignacy Sachs, and the support of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and of Suez Environnement.

These first “rencontres” marked the launching of the Research Center for Sustainability Science in Reims. Sustainability Science—that can hardly be translated into French—represents an emerging discipline [http://m.pnas.org/content/104/6/1737]. Its formal birth dates back to the 2001 Amsterdam Conference Challenges of a Changing Earth. Sustainability science addresses action on sustainable development. This presupposes a multiscale approach—temporal, spatial, and functional—, as well the inclusion of dynamic equilibria, not only of an economic, physical-chemical or biological kind, but also between actors and societies whose interests may be divergent. It correspond to use-inspired research, which is based on the postulate that the greatest scientific achievements in whatever domain take place in the framework of research applied to concrete needs of human societies. This research is, therefore, at the same time “basic” and “applied”. It is about science (natural and social) and technology for sustainability.

This center —an european focal point— will be the place for theoretical construction of research programs that privilege interfaces among disciplines. Every year, it will organize a thematic intensive workshop, bringing together a wide partnership.

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1st Rencontres


Social Justice and Sustainability:
Back to Planning?

22-23 June 2011