The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) was established in 2001 by four global environmental change (GEC) research programmes: DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP and WCRP. ESSP facilitates the study of the Earth's environment as an integrated system in order to understand how and why it is changing, and to explore the implications of these changes for global and regional sustainability. Joint research projects on carbon dynamics, food, water and health have been established. As a result of an independent review, the ESSP developed a new strategy that will provide an internationally coordinated and holistic approach to Earth system science. The approach integrates natural and social sciences from regional to the global scale. The mainstay of the ESSP is to identify and define Earth system science challenges, enable integrative research to address these challenges, and build scientific capacity. The GEC research community also faces an increasing challenge to present research results in more accessible and informative ways to stakeholders, especially to policy-makers. In response, the ESSP is developing new services that include knowledge products, Earth system science fora, a synthesis journal and interdisciplinary collaborative research. Coping with GEC is an enormous challenge and one the world must respond to successfully. Our common goal is, therefore, to develop the essential knowledge base needed to respond effectively and quickly to the great challenge of GEC.