Evolutionary biology for the human age

What would Charles Darwin have to say about the Anthropocene? Can evolutionary biology help us to come up with better ways to deal with the many challenges of an increasingly human-dominated planet? The answer is yeas, according to a recent study, published in tAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.

“The increasing intensity of anthropogenic forces in the twenty-first century has widespread implications for attempts to govern both human-dominated ecosystems and the last remaining wild ecosystems,” the author team claim.

In particular, the study by by Peter Søgaard Jørgensen at GEDB and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Beijer director Carl Folke, along with Scott Carroll from University of California, t Davis, focuses on five challenges, which they label: “evolutionary feedbacks”, “maintaining resilience”, “alleviating constraints”, “coevolutionary disruption”, and “biotechnology”.

Time for conscious biosphere stewardship

Concluding that humans are increasingly in direct control of the evolution of species, the authors divide the degree of human influence into three types of evolutionary “anthromes” (human-dominated biomes).

The first type is where humans artificially select the dominant species (e.g. urban parks and agricultural fields), the second is where we select and to varying degrees control the reproduction of large grazing animals (e.g. pasture land), and the third type is where we influence evolution through harvest pressure and selection (e.g. overfished ocean ecosystems). For example, humans select the cattle, sheep, goats and other animals that graze and shape 25–34% of the planet.

"Collectively and individually, Homo sapiens have set in motion a myriad of unplanned evolutionary experiments with large impacts at increasingly global scales." says lead author Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

It is time to move away from such uncoordinated and unmanaged human-driven evolution, the authors argue. What is needed now is more conscious stewardship of the anthromes and their increasingly human-dominated evolution. There are many areas of governance and policy in which the insights on “anthropogenic evolutionary dynamics” are relevant. Examples identified in the study include, food security, biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, good health for all, and safe biotechnology.

On the subject of food security, the study discusses the rapid evolution of pesticide resistance due to “social transmission of farmer overreliance on pesticides”. With an evolutionary biology approach, on the other hand, resistance to chemical pesticides is to be expected and resistance management planned for from the start. Consequently, the researchers suggest a range of alternative governance strategies, for example the promotion of “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM).

It is an evolutionarily-based strategy based on understanding of pests, their natural enemies and the local agro-ecosystem, which seeks to minimize reliance on pesticides.

Cultural evolution and biotech

Governance in the Anthropocene is not only confronted with complex ecological dynamics. Efforts to inform governance strategies with evolutionary biology must also take into account the cultural evolution of everything from human behaviours and norms, to technologies and institutions, the authors stress.

“Without embracing this social side of the equation, policies will most likely be unsuccessful due to design failure,” they write.

When understood well, on the other hand, social dynamics can be a policy lever for governing evolutionary challenges, such as antibiotic resistance. Evolution of antibiotic resistance, one of the world’s most serious health problems, is itself associated with a lack of understanding of evolutionary biology.

Three priorities that need to be addressed

Similarly, the authors also caution against the combination of limited evolutionary understanding and the rapid development of powerful new biological technologies.

“Evolutionarily informed governance of biotechnology’s rapidly expanding abilities to construct and manipulate living systems is urgently needed, including in the context of genome editing, gene drives, synthetic biology, and experiments with potential serious and widespread consequences.”

Finally, the authors put forward three priorities that need to be addressed to enable decision-making in this complex field. First, developing a coherent theory of evolution in the Anthropocene that really takes humans into account (how we are impacted by, are part of, and drive evolution).

Second, appreciating that any type of evolutionarily informed governance “occurs in contexts of diverse social dynamics that can be used as leverage points for intervention”.

Third, nurturing a culture of transdisciplinary research in evolutionary biology to “help bridge the current policy gap by informing evolutionists about the complex governance context of decision makers and the critical information they need to inform decisions”.

Jørgensen, P.S., Folke, C., Carroll, S.P. 2019. Evolution in the Anthropocene: Informing Governance and Policy. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 2019 50:1

LInk to publication


An altered planetary anatomy

Humans have transformed much of the planet to produce more and more food, fibre and fuel, now we need to radically transform this global production ecosystem. A new article suggests solutions strategies  for improved sustainability: redirection of finance, increased supply chain transparency, and participation of ‘keystone’ multinational corporations.

Farming, forestry and fisheries are changing the anatomy of the biosphere. This makes us all more vulnerable to new types of global risks that will affect the long-term ability to provide food, fibres and fuel to a growing and wealthier human population, according to a new study published in Naure as part of the journal’s 150th anniversary collection.

The article is written by a team of researchers from the Beijer Institute, the GEDB Academy programme and Stockholm resilience Centre together with Beijer Fellow Steve Carpenter from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA. It notes that more than 75 per cent of the world’s land area has already been converted into domains like cities, farmland and timber-producing forests. In the oceans, around 90 per cent of fish-stocks are either overexploited or fully exploited while a rapidly growing aquaculture sector is taking up more coastal and offshore space than ever.

“As available productive land and abundant fish stocks become progressively scarce, the potential for further land conversion, land redistribution and exploitation of new wild stocks as options to meet projected global human demand is dwindling”, says lead author Magnus Nyström.

A “simplified” global production ecosystem

Historically, humans have converted forests, lakes and other natural ecosystems into simplified production systems like croplands, forest plantations and fish farms. This has been carried out with a focus on efficiency and the massive use of inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and technology. In parallel, people, places, cultures and economies have become increasingly intertwined across the world, making production ecosystems globally interconnected through international trade and the global market.

Taken together, these changes are gradually converting the biosphere into a “simplified” global production ecosystem that focuses on a small number of harvestable species. For example, pigs and chickens account for 40% and 34%, respectively, of all the meat production in the world, whereas more than 80% of the global fish and shellfish aquaculture production is sourced from 30 “staple” species. Even seemingly unaffected parts of the biosphere are under human influence.

Increasing vulnerability and interconnected risks

The new global anatomy described above is already changing the global risk pattern. Shocks that were previously occurring locally within one sector are becoming “globally contagious” and more prevalent as sectors are intensified and more intertwined.

The fragile anatomy of the global system for production of biomass is one of the grand challenges facing humanity, the authors conclude. To change course, the researchers suggest three overarching strategies:

Redirecting finance for sustainability, exemplified by actions like divestment from unsustainable palm oil production, the insurance sector refusing to insure fishing vessels involved in illegal fishing, and banks denying loans to clients that do not comply with sustainability standards.

Radical transparency and traceability, governmental policies that ensure that social and environmental criteria are met along whole supply chains. It also requires education and information to consumers in the form of certification, labelling and public campaigns.

Keystone actors as agents of change, the handful of large transnational corporations that currently dominate agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In this context, the study also calls for improved science–business partnerships to complement public policies and governmental regulations. One example is the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative, in which centre researchers directly engage with ten of the world’s largest seafood companies to influence their 600 subsidiaries with operations in at least 90 different countries.

But the researchers warn that the three strategies will never be successful without profound shifts in worldviews and belief systems.

Link to article

Nyström, J.-B. Jouffray, A. V. Norström, B. Crona, P. Søgaard-Jørgensen, S. R. Carpenter, Ö. Bodin, V. Galaz, C. Folke. 2019. Anatomy and resilience of the global production ecosystem. Nature Volume 575

Earth stewardship – a foundation for sustainability

In this seminar we will explore ‘Earth Stewardship’, through different perspectives, as a prerequisite for meeting the major environmental and social challenges of our time.

Humanity is at a critical point in its relationship with the Earth, as our actions are rapidly destabilizing our planetary life support system. Progress towards sus­tainability will require deep institutional and structu­ral changes, and fundamental changes in the way we think, act, and relate to the biosphere and each other.

The seminar focuses on the concept of Earth Stewardship, celebrating Volvo Environment Prize Laureate Professor Stuart ‘Terry’ Chapin III’s work. ‘Earth Stewardship’ is a set of guiding principles on ecology and ethics aimed at preserving biodiversity and the planetary life support system by acting re­sponsibly.

Terry Chapin is a world-leading ecologist and one of the world’s most profound thinkers and actors on stewardship of the Earth System. With focus on the global Arctic, his work links ecology and ethics in both theory and practice. His novel concepts publis­hed over the last 30 years have been widely influenti­al in understanding biological diversity which under­pins human well-being

When & Where

Wednesday 6 November 2019, 13:00 – 16:00

Stora Hörsalen, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet Frescativägen 40, Stockholm  

Register to by 1 November

Click here for Pdf-invitation and program



Welcome address and introduction Dr. Therese Lindahl, the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Triggering transformation to sustainability through stewardship Professor Terry Chapin, University of Alaska

Linking care, knowledge, and agency Dr. Maria Tengö, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Coffee break

Capacities for transforming toward stewardship Dr. Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Governing a complex future Professor Carl Folke, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.

Panel discussion Moderated by Therese Lindahl

Music by folk music group HärMedJämt

The seminar is jointly hosted by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation.

Time for corporate biosphere stewardship?

recent article in Nature, Ecology and Evolution identifies a handful of transnational corporations that disproportionately influence the planet’s climate and ecosystem. This concentration of power comes with a great deal of responsibility and opportunity. Although voluntary corporate responsibility so far has proven ineffective, market concentration could be turned into a positive force for sustainability, the authors claim, and identify seeds of change that could be scaled up.

Link to article

Tracing back emissions to 100 companies

The author team, lead by Carl Folke, first review some of the evidence behind this statement. For example, they refer to other studies which show that more than 70 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to 100 companies. Similarly, a handful of transnational companies dominate agriculture, forestry and fisheries, which are major drivers of environmental change and biodiversity loss.

Examples include the four companies that control 84% of the agricultural pesticides market, and the five companies which account for 48% of global farmed Atlantic salmon (see infographic).

“Transnational corporations in agriculture, forestry, seafood, cement, minerals, and fossil energy cause environmental impacts and possess the ability to influence critical functions of the planet’s climate and biosphere,” the authors say.



Roadblocks or role models?

The authors emphasise that, so far, voluntary corporate social and environmental responsibility has been too ineffective. They also dwell on the risk for market concentration and corporate power to act as roadblocks due to prioritising economic profit over non-market values. In addition, some transnational companies have used their power to lobby regulators to weaken environmental and social standards.

“In the face of insufficient environmental agreements and regulations, dominance poses a threat to sustainability. For instance, companies able to set barriers to entry in a sector can stifle sustainable practices and technological innovation in general,” they write.

Consequently, corporate leadership in itself is unlikely to be sufficient, the authors say. The global-scale corporate biosphere stewardship they suggest will only be possible if governments around the world also provide “a regulatory context that safeguards non-market ecological and social values”.

“If combined with effective public policies and improved governmental regulations, actions by transnational corporations, could substantially accelerate sustainability efforts”, says Beijer Institute director Carl Folke

Six positive signs to build upon

So, what needs to happen to ensure that these big corporations live up to their potential as sustainability leaders on a global scale? To answer this question, the authors identify six observed positive signs of change towards ‘Corporate Biosphere Stewardship’, which they believe could and should be scaled up:

1) “Alignment of vision” – new norms are emerging among some of the largest brands, broadening the vision from profit only to responsibility, ethics, and purpose

2) “Mainstreaming sustainability” – in 2017 more than 70% of global companies mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals in their corporate reporting and 27% included them in their business strategy

3) “License to operate” – governments increasingly create legal requirement for large companies to identify and prevent abuses on human rights and the environment along global supply chains

4) “Financing transformations” – major pension funds and other institutional investors are slowly starting to redirect capital away from unsustainable practices and towards biosphere stewardship

5) “Radical transparency” – novel technologies, like smart algorithms that track movement of fishing vessels, are enhancing transparency along transnational corporations’ supply chains

6) “Evidence-based knowledge for action” – science-business collaboration is becoming increasingly common and important to ensure that companies’ sustainability agendas are framed by science rather than the private sector alone.

The foundation for this article was laid at the Beijer Institute's annual Askö meeting 2015.  The Askö meetings are informal workshops for internationally leading ecologists and economists. 

Folke, C., H. Österblom, J.-B. Jouffray, E. Lambin, M. Scheffer, B.I. Crona, M. Nyström, 2019. Transnational Corporations and the Challenge of Biosphere Stewardship Nature, Ecology and Evolution 3:1396–1403 



Swedish-US initiative on artificial intelligence and sustainability

On 15 October 2019 representatives from U.S. and Swedish academia, Swedish government, Google, Ericsson, USAID and UN agencies UNDP and UN Global Pulse, met to explore how applications of artificial intelligence can helpus reach targets related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The event marked the beginning of a new initiative coordinated by the Beijer Institute, Princeton University (Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies), and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The intensive fires in the Amazon, the rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and continued loss of biodiversity all illustrate that our planet is changing at a dangerous pace. At the same time, we are entering a period of unprecedented technological change.

Artificial intelligence in combination with accelerated progress in sensor technology and robotics, are likely to change the way we all perceive and respond to social and environmental changes. How can we ensure that applications of artificial intelligence help us address these urgent challenges?

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the world not only needs responsible AI, but planetary responsible AI”, said one of the founders of the initiative, Victor Galaz, programme director at Beijer Institute and deputy director at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Time for a serious discussion

Galaz believes there is a need to have a serious discussion across academia, civil society, policy and business about how AI can help expand our planetary support systems – climate stability, biodiversity, and living oceans. Otherwise, he warns, these technologies may well lead to accelerated climate and ecological disruption.

“In a world as complex and interconnected as ours, the black box of AI represents a governance challenge. How can we make use of the opportunities provided by AI, while also making sure that we have the constraints and control needed? The potential for applications of AI for agricultural production are tremendous, but we need to make sure these do not create new unexpected risks”, said Miguel Centeno, professor at Princeton University and vice-dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

"Sweden is at the forefront of research and development in artificial intelligence, but it is only through strong partnerships between business, academia and government that we can unleash AI's full potential and realize the social and economic benefits we hope to achieve", concluded Annika Rembe, Consul General of Sweden in New York.

Click here for more information about the collaboration

New framework to incorporate nature's impact on mental health into city plans

Getting some fresh air surrounded by greenery can do more than just clearing your head, it might just keep you sane. A number of scientific studies have shown that nature experiences may benefit people’s psychological well-being and cognitive function. But it has been difficult to find ways to quantify these benefits in a useful manner.

Now, an international research team, consisting of more than 20 leading experts from the natural, social and health sciences, has created a framework for how city planners around the world can start to quantify and account for the mental health benefits of nature and incorporate those into urban planning decisions. The study is published in Science Advances and co-authored by Carl Folke and Therese Lindahl (also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre).

Link to article

Why city people need nature

The article provides a summary of evidence that demonstrates the positive correlation between mental health benefits and nature experiences. For instance, studies have shown how spending time in nature, either individually, or in groups, enhances the performance of cognitive functions, memory and attention while also offering other psychological benefits such as increased social activity and feeling a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life. On similar lines, many studies have shown that nature experiences have helped reduce risk factors and disease burden for some types of mental illnesses such as depression.

Sadly, there is also a growing amount of evidence that modern lifestyles have led people to spend less time in nature especially as more humans now live in cities where the opportunities for experiencing nature are limited. This makes it more important for city planners to know the value of benefits nature offers; this is why the authors feel quantifying such benefits might aid effective decision-making when it comes to urban planning and design.

 “Many governments already consider benefits that nature provide in cities with regard to other aspects of human health. For example, trees are planted in cities to improve air quality or reduce urban heat island effects, and parks are built in specific neighbourhoods to encourage physical activity. But these actions typically do not factor in the mental health benefits that trees or a restored park might provide,” says Carl Folke,Beijer Institute director and Science director for Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC).

Four steps for informed decisions

The framework includes four steps for planners to consider: elements of nature included in a project, say at a school or across the whole city; the amount of contact people will have with nature; how people interact with nature; and how people may benefit from those interactions, based on the latest scientific evidence.

The researchers hope this tool will be especially useful in considering the possible mental health repercussions of adding — or taking away — nature in underserved communities.

The authors conclude by highlighting that although there appear to be multiple limitations when trying to quantify psychological well-being, these are new and important research frontiers experts can explore.

Therese Lindahl (also affiliated with SRC) explains: “Given rising mental health burdens and the costs they impose on society, despite the limitations, the framework is a useful tool to know what kind of green infrastructures can best serve city residents.”

Read more

Bratman, G.N., Anderson, C.B., Berman, M..G., Cochran, B. 2019. Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances 24 Jul 2019: Vol. 5, no. 7, eaax0903. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903


Exhibition: Welcome to the Biosphere

Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) researchers contribute to biosphere exhibition at Stockholm interior design store Svenskt Tenn.

The exhibition, called Welcome to the Biosphere, is a collection of artistic interpretations of issues regarding our relationship to the Biosphere, the thin layer around the Earth where we live, which supports human existence. It deals with the complex relationship between climate change, norms, ethics and economics. All of this is interpreted and visualised by artists Lars Arrhenius and Eric Ericson in collaboration with Svenskt Tenn’s curator, Karin Södergren.

Several researchers from the Beijer Institute and SRC provided the artists with scientific input and knowledge support.

Svenskt Tenn is owned by the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation and through the foundation the store’s entire profit is given to research, education and cultural projects . The Beijer Institute is one The Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation's main recipients.

The exhibition opened at 23 August and will be shown until 27 October 2019.

See and read more of the exhibition here



In memory of “Buzz” Holling 1930-2019

“Buzz” Holling, the father of resilience research and long time colleague and friend of the Beijer Institute, passed away on 16 August 2019, aged 88

Pioneers break new grounds and leave an empty space when they move on. Crawford Stanley”Buzz”  Holling is considered the father of resilience research and a pivotal figure in the development of the Beijer Institute, the Resilience Alliance and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

He was a pioneer in efforts to understand complex systems, inspired by thinkers emerging at that time. Holling strongly emphasized that understanding, not knowledge in a narrow sense, is navigating the dynamic, connected, and evolving challenges of our rich, unequal, and beautiful world. His encouragement of creative, fun, experimental research that bridges science, practice and art which has inspired the research culture at the Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Photo: Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations

From insects to adaptive management

Buzz Holling was born in 1930, and grew up in the forests of Northern Ontario where he developed a deep interest in the living world. An early interest in forest insects lead him to study insects, first at the University of Toronto and then the University of British Colombia. During his PhD (1957) he developed the first mathematical theory of predation. These concepts are now widely used to analyze predator-prey interactions.

In the sixties and seventies Holling extended his work using systems to understand diverse types of interactions among people and nature. He began to collaborate with experts outside of universities and research labs to understand land development, forest management, and pest management. It was from these experiences that Holling first began to formulate his ideas about resilience. This work continued in Vienna where Holling, first visited and then became director of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). There, he led and managed interdisciplinary teams that developed learning based approaches to understand interactions between people and nature.

Holling highlighted the importance of considering surprise, system reorganization, and learning when trying to understand social-ecological dynamics. These efforts lead to new dynamic ideas about the dynamic nature of resilience and the co-development of Adaptive Environmental Management and Assessment, a learning based approach to the management of complex environmental problems.

The origin of social-ecological systems thinking

In the 1990s, Holling moved from the University of British Colombia to the University of Florida in the United States. This marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Stockholm based researchers, initially through the Beijier Institute and then with researchers at Stockholm University.

In the 1990s these collaborations were organized into the MacArthur Foundation funded Resilience Network. The success of that project lead Holling to initiate the Resilience Alliance in 1999. The Resilience Alliance was established as an international partnership of interdisciplinary researchers focused on understanding transformations in human and natural systems.

The researchers behind the partnership published a number of influential papers and books in the 2000s, exploring the dynamics of resilience and transformation as well as the concept of social-ecological systems.

Holling trained many scientists that went on to make major impacts in behavioural ecology, forest management, fisheries, ecology, and sustainability science. He was passionate about developing cross-disciplinary, international networks among younger scientists, and made sure that this was a central and continuing part of resilience science activities.

His contributions to the board of the Beijer Institute in Sweden and Santa Fe Institute in the USA, advanced complexity science and suitability research.

A true scientific giant

Buzz Holling received many honours for his contribution to science and society. He received the Mercer Award and the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, as well as a foreign Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, and he became an Officer of the Order of Canada "for his pioneering contributions to the field of ecology, notably for his work on ecosystem dynamics, resilience theory and ecological economics".

He was awarded the Volvo Environmental Prize in 2008 that stated Holling was “one of the most creative and influential ecologists of our times".

Buzz Holling leaves behind his beloved family consisting of his wife Ilse, and his three children Jamie, Nancy and Chris, as well as four grandchildren.

He will be greatly missed by many dear friends and colleagues at the Beijer Institute and around the world. Buzz Holling was a true scientific giant. His fundamental contributions to our understanding of the world will continue to deeply influence and inspire us, and his warmth and curiosity will continue to inspire our research culture as we strive to create a world in which people and nature can thrive together.



What a difference a label makes

ASC certified fish farms appear to perform better environmentally than non-certified, but further stringency in standards are needed to fully tackle the challenges with aquaculture. This is shown in a recent study published in Marine Policy.

Salmon industry faces common problems

In the light of overfished oceans and conventional land food systems that use too much water and nutrient resources, farmed fish can be a promising alternative. Aquaculture has grown exponentially and salmon is one of the most economically valuable farmed species.

Today, 90 percent of global salmon production is farmed compared to the 1970s when salmon was a wild capture industry only. But the booming fish farming industry has caused a range of social and environmental problems. Private certification initiatives try to tackle these challenges and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is one of the most well-known.

The authors, Beijer reserchers Malin Jonell and Max Troell, also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre together with former Beijer staff Ola Luthman from Södertörn University in Sweden asked: what does the ASC standard add to conventional governance policies and to what sustainability dimensions does it contribute most?

Scanning available literature, the researchers identified specific challenges facing salmon aquaculture: feed, interaction with wildlife, fish health, and farm waste.

Read more

ASC is better but not good enough

National efforts to mitigate the bad and realize the good with aquaculture has been criticised for being too slack. As mentioned previously, private certification initiatives try to fill the gaps and the ASC has to date certified over 320 salmon farms.

The researchers compared the ASC production standards with the national regulations of the four largest salmon producing countries: Norway, Chile, Scotland (UK), and British Colombia (Canada). Across all four categories of challenges, the researchers found the ASC standards to be more stringent than the national regulations.

The biggest difference was found in Chile while the Norwegian regulations were close to the ASC level. The most important contributions of ASC certification proved to be (1) an allowed maximum of escaped fish per production cycle, (2) a requirement to the extent possible use certified sustainable-sourced fish meal and oil, (3) the prohibition to use critical antibiotics, and (4) tougher requirements on monitoring of waste levels.

Room for improvement

The ASC should not, however, be thought of as the panacea that will ‘fix’ fish farming. The authors point out that the standards perform comparatively better in sharpening the environmental performance of fish farms but there is still room for improvement.

The ASC still allows the use of non-certified fish ingredients in feed and recent changes in the standards provide additional leeway for producers to use terrestrial feed that is not sustainably sourced. The standard is, however, under development. The open characteristics of sea-based net pens used for salmon farming constitutes the basis for problems with escapes, waste, and the spread of disease and chemical compounds.

Link to publication

Reference:Luthman, O., M. Jonell, and M. Troell. Governing the salmon farming industry: comparison between national regulations and the ASC salmon standard. 2019. Marine Policy 106: 103534.



Adding realism to risks

Climate change increases the risk of catastrophic regime shifts in ecosystems. Such large, abrupt and persistent changes tend to have substantial impacts on nature's production of services. But how do we best assess the risk of them to happen? Are the standard economic models of catastrophic risks realistic enough? Can they handle delayed impacts?

To answer these questions  an article in The Scandinavian Jounal of Economics introduces “inertia risk”, a new way to model catastrophic risk, which the authors show is more appropriate for many real-world situations where the impacts of a risky event can occur long after the event itself.

The article is written by Beijer Institute deputy director  Anne-Sophie Crépin, (also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre), together with Eric Nævdal, Senior Research Fellow at The Frisch Center in Oslo, Norway.

Link to open access article

With inertia risk, the authors introduce a more realistic probability model of how economic activity affects the likelihood of catastrophes. The decisions you face in any given circumstance can be limited by the decisions you made in the past and there are delays between cause and effect. By incorporating these aspects, their model includes more of the complexities and uncertainties that real natural and social systems tend to display.

Decision makers’ role

Crépin and Nævdal illustrate their approach with a model of climate change , in which changes in temperature cause the accumulation of environmental stress which may trigger catastrophes even after temperature has been stabilized. The model gives guidance to decision makers’ on how they should respond to the risk of a catastrophe occurring.

“Such risk structures are particularly relevant when studying problems of pollution release and resource exploitation, where human activities, besides producing welfare, may also affect the risk of the system making a critical transition to an alternate regime,” they write.

While Crépin and Nævdal focus on climate change in the new article, they also underline that the model they use could be applied to many different pollution problems with a risk of regime shift. For example, it could be used to analyse the impacts of carbon dioxide on ocean acidification, emission of gases affecting the ozone layer or the effect of nutrient pollution on a lake.

More time to react

However, the authors also acknowledge that there are problems for which it is less appropriate and discuss in detail to what extent the approach can be generalised. For example the limitations of their approach when it comes to really complicated resource management problems with many interacting factors that influence the risk of regime shifts to happen, but also suggest ways to solve this.

Nonetheless, by introducing inertia risk in their model Crépin and Nævdal add a more realistic and precautionary approach to analysing climate-related risks. Hence, managers who include this kind of an approach in their work might avoid taking more risk than necessary. It can also give them more time to react before a catastrophe occurs and even enable them to avert it.

Read more

Reference: Crépin, A-S., Nævdal, E. 2019. Inertia Risk: Improving Economic Models of Catastrophes. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics doi: 10.1111/sjoe.12381