Nudges: The new black in environmental policy?

Nudging – a collection of behaviour change techniques – is increasingly attracting the interest of researchers, policy makers and the media. However, despite all this attention, it is not particularly clear to many what exactly nudging is, what it is not and why nudges can (sometimes) be so effective in changing our behaviour. To make the issues clearer, Therese Lindahl and Britt Stikvoort wrote a report exploring them.
The report was written for the Swedish think tank Fores and was launched in June 2015. It sought to answer the following questions: Are there enough sound scientific grounds for nudging today on which policy makers can base their policies? What really is the current state of the art in nudging research, what lessons can we learn from these past experiences and what are the biggest caveats in our current knowledge about nudging?
The report was presented by Therese Lindahl and discussed by a panel that included Per Bolund, Minister of Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, during the Swedish policy week in Almedalen, Visby in July 2015. Since then it has received a lot of attention from policy makers and the media
Download the report in Swedish and English

Keystone actors shape marine ecosystems

Only 13 corporations control 19-40% of the largest and most valuable stocks and 11-16 % of the global marine catch, according to new research published in the journal PLOS ONE, authored by researchers at the Beijer Institute, GEDB and Stockholm Resilience Centre. These "keystone" corporations of the global seafood industry critically shape the future of marine ecosystems.
The new study makes an analogy between the largest companies in seafood industry and keystone species in ecological communities. Keystone species in nature have a profound effect on the structure and function of the ecosystem and disproportionately determine the prevalence and activities of other species.
"The phenomenon of keystone actors is an increasingly important feature of our human-dominated world. Active leadership in sustainability initiatives by these corporations could result in a cascade through the entire seafood industry towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems," says lead author Henrik Österblom, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
"Increasing demand for seafood has contributed to a global fisheries crisis, with consequences for marine ecosystems around the world," Österblom adds. Existing analyses of global fisheries operations have, however, so far largely focused on the role of countries, rather than industry corporations.
A handful of dominating corporations
The study found that the average annual revenues of the 160 largest companies in 2012 exhibit a distinct keystone pattern, where the top 10% account for 38 % of total revenues. Among these, the authors analysed thirteen companies more in detail and found that they shape very large marine ecosystems around the world and are involved in both wild capture fisheries and aquaculture, including whitefish, tuna, salmon, shellfish, fishmeal, fish oil, and aqua feeds. Their combined annual revenues correspond to 18% of the global value of seafood production in 2012 (US$ 252 billion). This handful of corporations, represent only 0.5% of 2250 registered fishing and aquaculture companies worldwide.
Such keystone actors among corporations, the authors say, can be defined by the following characteristics: a) they dominate global production revenues and volumes within a particular sector, b) control globally relevant segments of production, c) connect ecosystems globally through subsidiaries, and d) influence global governance processes and institutions.
"Several of the fishing companies we investigated are larger than most nations in terms of their share of global catches. Our study reframes the responsibility for fishing in terms of transnational corporations, illustrating that they must be included into the equation if we are to solve the global sustainability crisis in marine ecosystems,” says co-author Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, Phd-student affiliated to all three institutions.
Österblom, H., Jouffray, J-B., Folke, C., Crona, B., Troell, M., Merrie, A., and Rockström, J. 2015. Transnational corporations as ‘keystone actors’ in marine ecosystems. PLOS ONE,

Beijer Institute research visualised in art-science exhibition

Pressrelease 2015-04-14

”The biosphere is the thin outer layer of this planet in which life exists. We humans are part of the biosphere and completely dependent on the air, the oceans, the forests and all other ecological systems in order to survive and thrive.” So begins the text interpreted by artist Jesper Waldersten in the exhibition Patterns of the Biosphere at the classical Swedish design company Svenskt Tenn. It is also the exhibition's overarching message and the basis for all research at the Beijer Institute.

-Regardless of whether one likes nature or not, we are all totally dependent on the biosphere for our own welfare, says Carl Folke, Director of the Beijer Institute. Environmental concern is today seen by many as an obstacle to development, but the conflict between economic development and ecological sustainability is really just a mental construct.

The Swedish interior design company Svenskt Tenn's profit goes via the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation to the support of research conducted at the Beijer Institute. In an exhibition opening 15 April, the institute’s research on the interaction between man and the biosphere is visualised. 

“Virtually all human activity has effects on the biosphere one way or the other. We want to help widen this knowledge and its importance for our future and the future of the planet, and also clarify the fact that all Svenskt Tenn's customers are contributing to important research in this field,” says Maria Veerasamy, CEO of Svenskt Tenn. 


Research at the Beijer Institute include developing new models of thinking and a terminology suited to our times. The Institute has been part of introducing and establishing the concepts "natural capital", "ecosystem services" and "ecological footprint". The results of the Institute's research are being picked up and put into practice at different levels throughout the world, for example in UN documents, EU decisions and national measures in different countries, but also at the local level in municipalities and companies.

A new approach to nature, the biosphere we live in, is the key to a more sustainable society. One way to accomplish this is to explain the world from a transdisciplinary holistic approach, applied by the Beijer Institute.

- Previously, both science and policy focused on one thing at a time. It is only now we begin to grasp the whole picture and understand the scale of the challenges. No place on Earth is unaffected by man and there is no human being that does not depend on the biosphere, says Carl Folke. He continues:

- The meeting between art and science makes it possible to reach people on a more emotional level than scientists normally have access to. We are very happy to have the opportunity to create this exhibition in collaboration with Svenskt Tenn and that it can be displayed in this unique environment.

The exhibition is free of charge and runs from April 15 through to June 15, 2015 in the Svenskt Tenn store in Stockholm.

Read more in the exhibition broschure: English Swedish

For more information, contact

Agneta Sundin, communication officer, the Beijer Institute +46 8-673 95 38 or,

Vicky Nordh, Marketing Assistant, Svenskt Tenn: +46 8-670 16 23 or

Thommy Bindefeld, Marketing Director, Svenskt Tenn: +46 8 670 16 02 or

Beijer Institute researchers receive funding from the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation

Gustav Engström and Chandra Kiran have together with Johan Gars of the Academy programme Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB), received five million Swedish kronor (SEK) in project funding from the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, to investigate the links between the macroeconomy and biophysical processes. One objective is to study the importance these links have for the use of economic policy instruments in relation to global environmental problems.
In addition to this research group, the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation has granted five million each to three other project groups in economics at Uppsala University, Stockholm School of Economics and Lund University.
“The four research groups to receive funding this year have all clearly demonstrated how increased added value can arise through close co-operation. The interdisciplinary content is also apparent in all four groups” said Kjell Blückert, MD of the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.  "The Ragnar Söderberg Foundation targets projects by groups rather than by single researchers. We believe in the importance of what are known as microenvironments: close collaborations in a small, tightly knit group with many external contact interfaces."
About the research project 
This research project Global biophysical processes in climate-economics-modelling: Implications for economic policy instruments aims to study the links between the macroeconomy and the biophysical processes which at global level regulate the living environments on Earth. During the past century, the scope of human activity has greatly increased, as has the associated impact on a number of global biophysical processes.
An overarching perspective is important since many sectors in the global macroeconomy are affected by, and affect, biophysical processes. Obvious examples of such sectors are food production and energy.
The researchers want to create an overall picture of how different biophysical processes relate to each other and interact with the socio-economy in general. 
“We are very grateful for this funding, which will allow us to investigate how these processes are related”, said Gustav Engström. “Economic policy instruments today are often skewed towards a certain problem and can therefore have unexpected consequences within other sectors.  We hope that in the long run, our research can help improve the use of economic policy instruments to handle various global environmental problems at the same time, including climate change”.   

Global icons, local threats

Without better local management, the world’s most iconic ecosystems are at risk of collapse under climate change, says an international team of researchers in study recently published in Science.
Protecting places of global environmental importance such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest from climate change will require reducing the other pressures they face, for example overfishing, fertilizer pollution or land clearing.
The team of researchers warns that localised issues, such as declining water quality from nutrient pollution or deforestation, can exacerbate the effects of climatic extremes, such as heat waves and droughts. This reduces the ability of ecosystems to cope with the impacts of climate change.
"Managing local ecosystems can help maintain and enhance their resilience in the face of global changes. It is often easier to implement incentives for stewardship of the biosphere in local commons than in global commons, where the uncertainty is lower, and where positive results of management may be more visible," says Beijer Institute Director Carl Folke, one of the study’s co-authors.
Unique World Heritage Sites
The authors examined three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Spain’s Doñana wetlands, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. While many ecosystems are crucial to their local people, these ecosystems also have a global importance—hence their designation as World Heritage Sites. For instance, the Amazon rainforest is a globally important climate regulator.
Like coral reefs, rainforests and wetlands around the world, these sites are all under increasing pressure from both climate change and local threats.
For example, rising temperatures and severe dry spells threaten the Amazon rainforest and, in combination with deforestation, could turn the ecosystem into a drier, fire-prone and species-poor woodland. Curtailing deforestation and canopy damage from logging and quickening forest regeneration could protect the forest from fire, maintain regional rainfall and thus prevent a drastic ecosystem transformation.
"All three examples play a critical role in maintaining global biodiversity. If these systems collapse, it could mean the irreversible extinction of species," says Beijer Fellow Marten Scheffer, the study’s lead author. He is Chair of the Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management at the Netherlands' Wageningen University.
No excuse - act locally
The authors suggest their evidence places responsibility on governments and society to manage local threats to iconic ecosystems, and such efforts will complement the growing momentum to control global greenhouse gases. Yet, in the three cases they examined, they found local governance trends are worrisome.
According to co-author Scott Barrett, the problem is one of incentives.
"These ecosystems are of value to the whole world, not only to the countries that have jurisdiction over them. It may be necessary for other countries to bring pressure to bear on these ‘host’ countries or to offer them assistance, to ensure that these iconic ecosystems are protected for the benefit of all of humanity," says Barrett, who is a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and former chairman of the Beijer Institute Board.
Above all, the paper raises awareness of the great opportunities for enhanced local action.
"Local management options are well understood and not too expensive. So there is really no excuse for countries to let this slip away, especially when it comes to ecosystems that are of vital importance for maintaining global biodiversity," concludes Scheffer.
Scheffer, M., Barrett, S., Carpenter, S.R., Folke, C., Green, A.J., Holmgren, M., Hughes, T.P., Kosten, S., va de Leemput, I.A., Nepstad, D.C., van Nes, E. H., Peeters, E.T.H.M., and Brian Walker. Creating a safe operating space for iconic ecosystems, Science 2015.

Carl Folke honorary doctor in Belgium

Each year as part of its Patron Saint's Day celebrations, the Belgiums largest university, KU Leuven, recognises individuals for exceptional scientific, societal or cultural achievement. One of the individuals who received this year's honorary doctorates, on 2 February, was Beijer Institute Director Carl Folke.
The others are Philippe Claudel (multifaceted artist and humanist), Rakesh Jain (engineer and cancer research pioneer), Brainard Guy Peters (leading political scientist), and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet (who will receive her honorary doctorate later this year).
In a press release announcing the event Carl Folke's research on the resilience of integrated social-ecological systems is recognised as being both exceptional and novel:
"Folke's work adds a new dimension to our thinking on sustainability: he conceives of societies as living systems that are continually changing in interaction with their biophysical surroundings. His research on the resilience of these ecosystems is particularly pertinent for policy frameworks aimed at addressing climate change."

Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – new and improved

Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers, among them Beijer Institute Director Carl Folke and colleagues from Stockholm Resilience Centre, in the journal Science (16 January 2015). The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).
Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call “core boundaries”. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”.
“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” says Lead author, Professor Will Steffen, researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra. “In this new analysis we have improved our quantification of where these risks lie.” 
What’s new?
The new paper is a development of the Planetary Boundaries concept, which was first published in 2009, identifying nine global priorities relating to human-induced changes to the environment. The science shows that these nine processes and systems regulate the resilience of the Earth System – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend.
The research builds on a large number of scientific publications critically assessing and improving the planetary boundaries research since its original publication. It confirms the original set of boundaries and provides updated analysis and quantification for several of them, including phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, land-system change, freshwater use and biosphere integrity.
The silver lining
It may seem that the paper puts forward a gloomy message. However, the authors also emphasise the other side of it. This knowledge provides us with a great opportunity to turn things around. 
“Planetary Boundaries illustrate that humanity is an embedded part of the biosphere and need to reconnect development to biosphere resilience and the safe operating space for humanity,” says Carl Folke, Director of the Beijer Institute and Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Johan Rockström, co-author and Stockholm Resilience Centre Director, will present the new findings at the World Economic Forum in Davos 21-24 January. 
“It is obvious that different societies over time have contributed very differently to the current state of the earth. The world has a tremendous opportunity this year to address global risks, and do it more equitably. In September, nations will agree the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With the right ambition, this could create the conditions for long-term human prosperity within planetary boundaries,” Rockström says. 
Steffen et al. 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, January 2015.
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855

Science article: How to make China's aquaculture more sustainable

China's booming aquaculture industry relies increasingly on fishmeal made from wild-caught fish. This practice risks depleting wild fish stocks and strains fragile ocean ecosystems, but a new study in Science offers a more sustainable path. The study by a research team led by Stanford University and including Beijer Institute researcher Max Troell and colleagues from Stockholm Resilience Centre, offers the clearest picture to date of China’s enormous impact on wild fisheries. It also presents a more sustainable alternative to the current practice of using wild-caught fish to feed farm-raised fish.
One-third of global supply
China is the world's leading producer, consumer and processor of fish, contributing one-third of the global supply. China's fish production has tripled in the past 20 years, and about three-quarters of its supply now comes from fish farms.
"Yet the industry still places pressure on wild fisheries through its demand for fishmeal and fish oil made from wild-caught species” says Max Troell, co-author of the study. "How China develops its aquaculture and aquafeed sector can therefore tip the balance of global seafood availability," he continues.
Fishing in the coastal waters of China is poorly regulated and often indiscriminate. The result is large volumes of assorted "trash fish" – species that are unfit for human consumption – that end up in animal feeds, including in fishmeal that is fed to farm-raised fish. Many of the stocks of wild fish used for feeds have been fully exploited and many of those targeted in mixed fisheries overexploited, and reducing the demand for them can help protect fragile ocean ecosystems.
"There is a clear opportunity for positive change, but the economic and regulatory incentives for such change are not yet in place," says Rosamond Naylor, Stanford Professor and member of the Beijer Institute board.
Seafood waste can replace wild fish
One promising solution is to recycle the waste by-products from seafood processing plants across China. This waste, which can be 30 to 70 percent of the incoming volume of fish, is often discarded or discharged into nearby waters.The team's analysis shows that these processing wastes could satisfy between half and two-thirds of the current volume of fishmeal used by Chinese fish farmers, replacing much of the wild fish currently used in feeds.
Quality and food safety are two potential barriers to replacing wild-caught fish with fish processing wastes. The waste is lower in protein than wild-caught fish, but this can be overcome by adding plant-based protein sources to the fishmeal, like algae or ethanol yeast. The use of processing waste also raises concerns about contamination and disease transmission, which the researchers say can be addressed through tighter regulations and better research on the safety risks.
China's path ahead is crucial
"It's time to make serious decisions about managing and protecting ocean fisheries, and China will play a pivotal role in this process," says Rosamond Naylor. 
"This is a critical juncture for China," concludes lead author Dr. Ling Cao, Stanford University. "If the country makes proactive reforms to its aquaculture sector, like using fish-processing wastes instead of wild fish, and generally reducing the amount of fishmeal in aquafeeds, it can greatly improve the sustainability of the industry. If not, the consequences for the entire global seafood supply chain are going to be really serious."
Full reference:
Ling Cao, L., R. Naylor, P. Henriksson, D. Leadbitter, M. Metian, M. Troell, W. Zhang. 2015. China's aquaculture and the world's wild fisheries. Science. 347 (6218): 133-135. DOI:10.1126/science.1260149

Film launch on Urban Green Commons

A new film series has been launched picturing the growing movement of urban gardening.

During the last three years Beijer Institute researcher Johan Colding and his research colleagues from Stockholm Resilience Centre and Royal Technical College (KTH) collaborated with the filmmakers Seven Frames Production to document a number of urban farming projects in both Berlin and Stockholm, as part of a research project.
The film series is called Urban Green Commons: Berlin-Stockholm and draws ultimately on the notion that common property initiatives can offer important alternatives to privatization of land in cities. The film series consists of four films that each deals with different aspects of urban gardening and farming.

"It has been truly fascinating to see what can happen when local residents themselves get a chance to dig into the soil, work with their hands, and together with others get the opportunity to take care of and manage green areas in cities," says Pehr Arte, one of the film makers.

Common spaces with different purposes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       These urban gardens have been created by citizens often on what was old waste land, such as an abandoned train track in Stockholm, but they vary in management form and theme. In Stockholm one of the gardens "Folkodlarna i Kärrtorp" focus on spreading knowledge of organic gardening and producing local food. Meanwhile, the "Ökogarten Bushgraben" in Berlin is more spritually oriented  and aim with its activities to be restorative for persons that are mentally fatigue or disabled.

The gardens are examples of what Johan Colding and his colleagues have labelled "Urban Green Commons", green city spaces that are collectively organized and managed by the residents themselves. They represent a particular type of property right systems, which are different from those that are in the hands of private actors or the state and local governments.

"There is an increasing scientific interest in urban gardening and urban common property systems. The film series supports and complements several findings from the scientific literature," explains Johan Colding.

Science and film combined in project
Much of the new insights featured in the films have been derived from  scientific studies on Urban Green Commons and similar gardening projects in cities and the films are part of the research project SUPER (Sustainable Urban Planning for Ecosystem services and Resilience). This project intends to develop knowledge on how urban planning processes can better integrate ecosystem services to nurture local resilience building in urban landscapes. It also strives to lay a foundation for social innovations about inclusive forms of ecosystem stewardship, something that both the film-makers and the researchers have found to be vital for transitions into more sustainable cities.

"In the long-term, we in the SUPER project hope to be able to generate new knowledge and innovations of immediate concern to urban residents, policy makers, and urban planners," says Johan Colding.

The films have been produced by Seven Frames with the support of Formas (Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning) and the Beijer Institute/Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Johan Colding is responsible for the original idea and has been the scientific project manager.

See the films and read more about the project here


Hawaiian reefs through the resilience lens

With the world’s coral reefs endangered by various threats such as global warming, ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution, there is an urgent need to anticipate and prevent further losses of coral and to reverse shifts in already degraded reefs. Such challenges require a better understanding of the resilience of these complex reef systems and of the human and natural factors threatening them.
This is the conclusion of a new study in Philosophical Transactions special issue, by Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, PhD student with the Beijer Institute and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB) Programme at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, also associated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre. 
Novel approach reveals the picture
Using one of the most comprehensive coral reef datasets available, Jean-Baptiste Jouffray and colleagues developed a new methodology for detecting, visualising and defining multiple reef regimes across 302 sites in the Hawaiian archipelago. The paper is part of a special issue on marine regime shifts around the world and offers a promising avenue to use this novel approach for analysing other ecosystems too.
“While previous scientific debate has largely been centred around the shift between coral-dominated reefs and the undesired large fleshy algae-dominated reefs, we were surprised to find that over half of the reefs studied in Hawaii belong to a third state dominated by turf algae”, explains Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, lead author of the new study. 
Turf algae are communities of smaller and more delicate algae that belong to a large number of different species. This raises the question whether turf-dominated reefs are stable or transitional states moving towards macroalgae dominance, or conversely towards coral recovery. Time-series data showing changes in the reefs over a period of time will be required to investigate the question further.
Like fish, like reef
Higher numbers of herbivorous (algae-eating) fish proved to be the strongest indicator of reef state throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The greater the number of herbivorous fish found at a study site, the healthier the coral and the smaller the algal presence. However, deeper analysis of the fish distribution data revealed that type of herbivore is also important.
”For management purposes, it is not enough to consider herbivores as a group, since different functional groups with specific feeding behaviour may lead to different reef states. This opens up an avenue for more refined and efficient management of reefs”, says Albert Norström, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Coral reef herbivorous fish can be categorised into three groups: grazers, scrapers and browsers. The grazers crop on algal turf, preventing the establishment and growth of larger fleshy macroalgae. Scrapers also feed on turf, but they remove some components of the reef substratum, providing bare areas for coral recruitment. Finally, browsers consistently feed on macroalgae and may play a crucial role in reversing macroalgae-dominated states.

But people matter too

Avoiding regime shifts in coral reefs is important because coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth and harbour approximately 25% of all marine species. They provide a wide range of ecosystem goods and services that are crucial for economic and societal development, such as food, coastal protection and income from tourism.

Further, the new study found that sewage and other effluents from human settlements proved to be the second greatest factor in reef decline in Hawaii, confirming findings elsewhere.
“These results highlight once again the need to reduce pollution run-off from human activities on land, in order to safe-guard the many ecosystem services generated by coral reefs”, concludes Jean-Baptiste Jouffray
The new study is based on a collaboration with researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Conservation International-Hawaii. 
Jouffray J-B, Nyström M,Norström AV, Williams ID, Wedding LM,Kittinger JN, Williams GJ. 2015 Identifying
multiple coral reef regimes and their drivers across the Hawaiian archipelago. Phil.Trans. R. Soc. B 370: 20130268.