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Resilience and sustainable development: building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations

Publication date:
C. Folke
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This paper is a synthesis of the rapidly-changing field of resilience research and argues that humanity has powerful interactions with biogeochemical, hydrological and ecological processes, from local to global scales. It argues that the complexity of social-ecological systems makes it necessary to abandon the perception of a global steady state. Instead, managing complex, coevolving social-ecological systems for sustainability requires the ability to cope with, adapt to and shape change without losing options for future development. It requires resilience - the capacity to buffer perturbations, self-organise, learn and adapt. The paper highlights two useful tools for resilience building in complex and unpredictable systems as structured scenarios and active adaptive management. Structured scenarios attempt to envision alternative futures in ways that expose fundamental variables and branch points that may be collectively manipulated to evoke change. Active adaptive management seeks a set of structured management experiments designed to reveal fundamental variables and system potential. It further adds that managing for social-ecological resilience requires understanding of ecosystem dynamics, incorporating also the knowledge and wisdom of local users and interest groups. The paper recommends that policy should:

strengthen the perception of humanity and nature as interdependent and interacting and stimulate development that enhances resilience in social-ecological systems, recognising the existence of ecological threshold, uncertainty and surprise
stimulate the creation of arenas for flexible collaboration and management of social-ecological systems, with open institutions that allow for learning and build adaptive capacity
stimulate the development of indicators of gradual change and early warning signals of loss of resilience and possible threshold effects
encourage monitoring of key ecosystem variables and aim to manage diversity for insurance to cope with uncertainty
stimulate ecosystem friendly technology and the use of economic incentives to enhance resilience and adaptive capacity
provide incentives that encourage learning and build ecological knowledge into institutional structures in multi-level governance
invite participation by resources users and other interest groups and their ecological knowledge.