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Carl Folke honorary doctor in Belgium
2015-02-23

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
2015-01-19

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. 
 
 
 
 
Reference:
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
2015-01-09

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
2014-12-11

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
2014-12-10

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.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0268
 
 
 

 

Special issue: "Marine regime shifts around the globe: theory, drivers, and impacts
2014-11-26

What do the Baltic Sea, Hawaiian coral reefs, and kelp forests have in common? All are marine systems that are susceptible to so-called regime shifts. These shifts are large and persistent (and often abrupt) changes in ecosystem structure and function. Often, they are associated with impacts on economies and well-being, due to for example fisheries declines, loss of tourism revenue, or the loss of resilience to climate change. Better understanding of regime shifts is important as they tend to be difficult to anticipate and costly to reverse.
 
"Understanding the social-ecological interactions behind regime shifts, and how to avoid them, will be key to maintaining healthy oceans and benefits they provide to communities around the world," says Beijer Director Carl Folke, co-editor of  November 24 special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society—Biological Sciences. 
 
Small impact, big change
The special issue, entitled "Marine regime shifts around the globe: theory, drivers, and impacts", features more than 80 authors from different disciplines, across 6 continents. Altogether, the issue includes nearly 20 studies that explore the science behind regime shifts in ocean ecosystems worldwide, and how they can be managed.
 
Regime shifts are addressed from the different perspectives of theory, ecosystem observations, modelling and management. The articles featured in the special issue clearly tells us that there are regime shifts for many marine ecosystems, and that even small increases in human stressors can lead to abrupt major changes in their status. 
 
 
Sovjet Union and global seafood exploitation
Henrik Österblom, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Carl Folke contribute with a paper entitled "Globalization, marine regime shifts and the Soviet Union". In it they analyse fishing activities of the Soviet Union in relation to all large marine ecosystems of the world from 1950 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They found that one single actor could have a disproportionately large effect on global fisheries, pushing exploitation to new levels. Soviet fishing activities were coordinated through a system of central planning. Global synchronicity can thus also result from human activities, and not just global patterns of climate. Interestingly, Soviet fishing also contributed to triggering regional and global governance responses for improved management.
 
"The Soviet Union has been one of the largest actors ever in global seafood exploitation and pioneered the global expansion of fishing activities at an unprecedented scale. They were the fore-runners of the globalization of fishing activities that we are observing today," Henrik Österblom explains.
 
 
Conversi, A., Möllman, C. Folke, C., Edwards, M., (editors). 2014. Marine regime shifts around the globe: theory, drivers and impacts. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society - Biological Sciences 370(1659)
 

Three keys to succesful Sustainable Development Goals
2014-11-12

As the work progresses in developing the set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that are to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2015, researchers voice their concerns of how to produce goals that are achievable while corresponding to a desired future scenario for human and environmental development.
 
Three necesary conditions
An article in Ecology and Society presents three necessary conditions for establishing effective SDGs. The article is a joint effort by the Beijer Young Scholars group, an international network of early-career researchers initiated by the Beijer Institute to stimulate the emergence of new research pathways and new ways of cooperating across disciplines for the global challenges facing humanity. Lead author was  Albert Norström, Stockholm Resilience Centre. 
 
"While the Millennium Development Goals focused mainly on alleviating poverty in developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals need to have all nations on board," says Norström. 
 
"This means that the process of developing the new goals needs to be based on an inclusive and broad analysis of what we want to achieve by putting the goals in place, and that it needs to allow for actors from science and the rest of society to meet and discuss."
 
Parts of a whole
As a first condition the authors argue that the SDGs need to embrace the concept of social-ecological systems, seeing people and the biosphere as integrated parts of a whole rather than as separate systems.
 
"Research is showing that humans are a part of and shaping ecosystems from the local to the global scale, and at the same time we are fundamentally dependent on the functioning of these systems", says Maja Schlüter, Stockholm Resilience Centre
 
"The SDGs should be designed so that they increase the awareness of the connection between functioning ecosystems and for example poverty alleviation and human development."
 
Finding middle ground
Secondly, the authors argue, the SDG process needs to address and navigate the trade-offs between being ambitious and achievable. The new goals will be composed of moral and political commitments, much like the MDGs, but they will not be legally binding.  This means that there is a need for those setting the goals to be aware of the different constraints, biophysical, social and political, that different nations and peoples face.
 
It also means that the SDGs need to be set in a way so that they are inspiring rather than deterring. And that they should address issues that can be tackled on different levels in society and government.
 
"The SDGs should enable actors on different scales in society to feel responsible and motivate them to push for positive change. If the bar is set too high, this will not happen." argue the authors.
 
Starting with what we know
The third condition for developing effective SDGs is that formulating the goals should be guided by existing knowledge about social change processes on all scales, from global to individual.
 
"Accounting for existing belief systems and norms at various scales can improve both the design and the implementation of SDGs by shedding light on constraints while also providing opportunities for producing national-scale targets and incentives beneath each goal," says Norström. 
 
 
The authors conclude that incorporating these three conditions in the development of the SDGs should increase the likelihood that the goals once formulated are relevant and feasible
 
 
Norström, A. V., A. Dannenberg, G. McCarney, M. Milkoreit, F. Diekert, G. Engström, R. Fishman, J. Gars, E. Kyriakopoolou, V. Manoussi, K. Meng, M. Metian, M. Sanctuary, M. Schlüter, M. Schoon, L. Schultz, and M. Sjöstedt. 2014. Three necessary conditions for establishing effective Sustainable Development Goals in the Anthropocene. Ecology and Society 19(3): 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06602-190308

 

 

Seminar: Global Social-Ecological Connectivity and the Biosphere
2014-11-11

See video from the seminar: Click here for part 1  with keynoter speaker Eric Lambin and click here for part two with speakers Henrik Österblom, Emily Boyd and Niki Frantzeskaki. Moderator Victor Galaz.

Globalization is not only increasing the flows of people, ideas, capital and technology at the global scale, but also creating novel and large-scale social-ecological connections. These connections are sometimes denoted "telecoupling"or "nested vulnerabilities", and are gaining increased attention from sustainability scholars. Increased global connectivity can createnew systemic risks at the global level, as experienced during the 2008-2009 global food crisis, and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. However, increased connectivity could also act as an engine for diversity, robustness and innovation as social actors tap into its benefits. 

 
Despite an increased interest in these issues, our understanding of how social-ecological connections emerge, evolve and impact on the biosphere are limited. This seminar explores these issues from multiple perspectives together with the 2014 Volvo Environment Prize winner Eric Lambin (keynote) and speakers Henrik Österblom, Emily Boyd and Niki Frantzeskaki. Moderator Victor Galaz.
 
Thursday 27 November 2014, 09.00-12.00
The Beijer Hall, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm
 
The event is free of charge and open to the public but registration is required
 
Download invitation here
 
Register here
 
 
 

Reflections on people and the biosphere
2014-10-21

Reflections – on People and the Biosphere is a new book by Centre Science Director Carl Folke and legendary designer/art director Lars Hall. The book features insights from 30 years of resilience research together with a set of unique photos from the Stockholm Archipelago during the same time period.
 
Reconnecting to the biosphere
Using quotes from songs by international artists and insights from his own and others research on social-ecological systems, Carl Folke describes the dynamic relationship between humans and the biosphere in a thought-provoking manner. The images and the text interact with a rhythm, reminding us again and again of the importance of reconnecting our social and economic systems to the biosphere.
 
"The whole book represents a mind-shift, from treating the planet as an externality to recognizing that we are strongly dependent on a healthy and functioning planet for our own development," explains Carl Folke.
 
Artistic expression
In a video Carl also describes why he has chosen to work with an artistic expression to communicate scientific insights, and how this perspective can complement the research findings showing that we need to reconnect to nature.
 
"The photos and the selected musical quotes show very strongly the emotional connection to the biosphere that we all are a part of."
 
Shifting scenes
The photos are from Lars Hall's personal collection and are a result of him documenting a particular bit of nature in Stockholm’s northern archipelago. From the exact same point on Grillskäret Island, various seasons and times throughout the day have been documented by his camera for 30 years. The result is a unique exposé of nature's shifting scenes – from a peaceful atmosphere to the dramatically menacing.
 
Lars Hall is legendary within the field of design through his work at Hall&Cederquist during the 1970s and Lars Hall Design AB from 1990 onwards. He has been a key advocate for the photographic image via the gallery Camera Obscura that he established back in the 1970s.
 
Click here to read more and to see the video where Carl Folke talks about the the relationship between humans and the Biosphere and between science and art.

Beijer Institute board member wins 2014 Volvo Environment Prize
2014-10-21

"Eric Lambin has successfully bridged social, geographical and biophysical disciplines in order to advance the global understanding of land use change and what it means for human wellbeing.” 
 
So goes the jury’s motivation for awarding the prize to the Beijer Institute board member who divides his time between Stanford University in California, and Université Catholique de Louvain in his native Belgium.
 
Eric Lambin has for decades developed methods of analysing satellite images by linking them to socioeconomic data. By doing that, he and his research colleagues can track land use changes on the impact of trade and demand for biofuels or food crops. His research has focused on trying to bridge two disparate communities – remote sensing scientists and human ecologists.  Using this technique, sometimes called the people-to-pixel approach he has developed knowledge on the transfer of infectious diseases, deforestation, human behaviour, conflict resolution and agricultural practice. 
 
Read more about the prize and about Eric Lambins research