Centre of Excellence: Resilience and Sustainability - integrated research on social-ecological systems

Human activities are driving global environmental dynamics towards systemic changes in economic and social systems, with further feedbacks to the global environment making the Earth system a truly a social-ecological system. At a minimum, these changes will cause concern about future human well-being and in worst cases challenge the survival of our species.  We currently lack institutions capable of addressing global-scale socio-ecological system governance.

Our aim is to gain better understanding of the global social-ecological system, the likelihood and consequences of sequential or coincident multiple shocks in this system, and how society responds or fails to respond - to these shocks. We propose to address this task by developing a ‘framework’ for conceptualizing the global social-ecological-economic system, its responses to crises and shocks and options for intervention to improve the odds of beneficial system outcomes..

This program continues Beijer’s tradition to dealing with research on complex social ecological systems scaling up the perspectives to a global level.


Carl Folke


Phone + 46 8 673 95 00
Fax + 46 8 15 24 64
Address: The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, The Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Box 50005 SE-104 05 Stockholm Sweden


A collaborative program of the Beijer Institute, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) funded by Formas – the Swedish Research Council for the Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning. Beginning January 2006, the five year research program with new funds (25 million SEK in total) focuses on complex systems, regime shifts and resilience, emphasizing the need for new integrated and adaptive approaches to social and economic development, where the complex interconnectedness between humans and nature, at all scales, is considered and the existence of uncertainty accepted as the rule.

The clusters of research issues
What are the basic processes and sources of resilience in social-ecological systems and the features behind loss of resilience and how do they interact across temporal and spatial scales?

How can governance systems be shaped and stimulated to emerge across spatial and temporal scales in order to cope with uncertainty, surprise and vulnerability in social-ecological systems? What are the lessons from past experience and history?

To what extent is there a need to revise current approaches to economic policy, indicators of wealth, and governance in the light of complex systems and cross-scale interactions? In particular, is it possible to assess the value of resilience so as to include it in an accounting framework?

The program is structure in two major parts that will interact and feed into each other.

- Advancing theories on social-ecological systems

- Place-based regional case studies for learning and application

We will continue to analyze the theoretical basis and implications of regime shifts in ecosystems for economics and economic policy in relation to resource and environmental management. There will be analyses of shifts in knowledge regimes in the context of the history of ideas and its implications for the trajectories of governance of social-ecological systems. Furthermore, there will be analyses of regime shifts of governance systems with modeling of shadow networks, leadership, institutions and other social capital factors affecting such shifts drawing on findings of the place-based regional case studies. These efforts will not only focus on the threshold between states (or possible multiple states), but will also work towards unraveling variables, processes and sources of resilience and vulnerability to regime shifts in social-ecological systems. The implications of spatial dynamics will be analyzed and tools developed to include spatial dynamics, regime shifts and multi states in resource management models and policy instruments. We will also address social sources of resilience, how they interact across scales and their role in management of social-ecological systems subject to change, including systems of adaptive governance.

The collaboration with different groups of the Resilience Alliance will be especially valuable in this context. Carl Folke is program leader, in close collaboration with Karl-Göran Mäler and Johan Rockström. The funds predominantly support several young scholars from different disciplines.

The centre of excellence program is a corner stone in the joint collaboration between the three partners of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.