Main content area

Modelling future safe and just operating spaces in regional social-ecological systems

Cooper, Gregory S., Dearing, John A.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.651 pp. 2105-2117
Monte Carlo method, decision making, fish, governance, models, socioeconomic development, sustainable development, India
Shaping social-ecological systems towards sustainable, desirable and equitable futures is often hampered by complex human-natural feedbacks, emergence and nonlinearities. Consequently, the future of systems vulnerable to collapse is uncertain under plausible trajectories of environmental change, socioeconomic development and decision-making. We develop a modelling approach that incorporates driver interactions and feedbacks to operationalise future “safe and just operating spaces” for sustainable development. Monte Carlo simulations of fish catch from India's Chilika lagoon are compared to conditions that are ecologically and socioeconomically desirable as per today's norms. Akin to a satellite-navigation system, the model identifies multidimensional pathways giving at least a 75% chance of achieving the desirable future, whilst simultaneously diverting the system away from undesirable pathways. Critically for regional governance, the driver limits and trade-offs associated with regulating the resource are realised. More widely, this approach represents an adaptable framework that explores the resilience of social-ecological interactions and feedbacks underpinning regional sustainable development.