Governance is critical to managing interactions in social-ecological systems as we seek global solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss and human social disadvantage.

The challenge

Understanding governance for stewardship of complex and dynamic systems

Earth's ecosystems have been influenced by the practices and cultures of people for millennia. However, the pace of environmental and social change, and global connectivity, is unprecedented and the overwhelming influence of human societies has led to a new era in Earth's history—the Anthropocene.

Interventions aimed at fixing a problem—such as excluding fires from a protected area to protect particular animals—can have unintended consequences, leading to loss of cultures, species and ecosystems.

While local collaborations can develop new understandings and modes of governance that enhance ecosystem stewardship, global governance arrangements often also affect outcomes. For example, the international trade rules agreed through the World Trade Organisation promote open borders and are more powerful than agreements under the Convention for Biological Diversity for biosecurity controls to protect against invasive species.

Our response

Building international science theory, practice and policy

We are engaged in several international science efforts that are using local examples to develop a more global and systematic understanding of how governance can enhance ecosystem stewardship in the Anthropocene.

Working with international science partner organisations, we have developed new frameworks for understanding and evaluating the governance of nature conservation and food provisioning. This work introduced concepts of vitality and diversity, and links global scholars across previously unconnected fields. These partner organisations include:

  • Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS), Sweden
  • James Hutton Institute, United Kingdom
  • SwedBio at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
  • Intergovernmental Scientific-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
  • the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre, United Kingdom.

The results

Expanded global scientific knowledge supporting better practice and policy

Our work in this arena is supporting better practice and policy in a number of ways.

As a member of the PECS Collaborative Governance and Management Working Group , we are working to understand the effectiveness of all elements of collaborative governance and management of ecosystems around the globe, at different scales.

IUCN is applying the concept of 'vitality' that we co-developed to its governance evaluation work across the globe. Vitality looks at whether governance is: well-integrated and functionally connected; wise; long-term; adaptive; and innovative.

We are supporting the Multiple Evidence Base (MEB) approach for equity across indigenous, local and scientific knowledge systems, as a partner of the SwedBio programme. This approach has been promoted by both the Convention on Biological Diversity and the IPBES to support sustainability governance.

In collaborative research with the Hutton Institute, we explored different ways to approach an understanding of ecological systems analysis through social ecological systems modelling. Collaboration with the Switzerland-based ICCA Consortium has resulted in a comprehensive examination of the merits and disadvantageous of the diverse conservation governance approaches employed globally.

At the invitation of the STEPS Centre, we presented our work with the Koinmerburra and Yuibera Aboriginal Corporations at the Climate Change and Uncertainty from Above and Below workshop in India. The workshop examined how people live with, understand and cope with uncertainty in everyday settings, with the goal of assisting participants in developing methodological innovations.

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