Urban Social-Ecological Systems

Cities currently account for around 70 percent of both the world’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to environmental degradation on a global scale. In contrast, with appropriate stewardship, cities can help contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and functioning urban ecosystems can greatly contribute to human health and wellbeing.

By the year 2050 it is predicted that newly built cities will cover an aggregated size of France, Germany, and Portugal. Making sure that cities operate within planetary boundaries while, at the same time, striving towards universally accessible, inclusive, resilient, sustainable and health supporting urban environments, is an important mission for planners, local governments and civil society. Currently cities face grand challenges for climate-change mitigation and adaptation, migration, loss and erosion of ecosystem services, urban densification and the challenge of increased digitalization of city functions.

In the Urban Social-Ecological Systems (USES) research programme, we are studying how cities could become more reconnected to the biosphere. This involves research on how urban ecosystems help to promote social-ecological resilience and create suitable conditions for both humans and nature. The interplay between ecosystem services, governance institutions, behavioral economics and design of the built environment is viewed as critical for creating more sustainable and resilient cities. Historically, the program has drawn from the insights generated within the Beijer Property rights Program and the UN-based Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Our research insights have been pivotal in the development of the new research frontier coined ‘Social-Ecological Urbanism’ that deals with how nature-based solutions can be incorporated in the built environment. The program also addresses research on urban densification and how an increased digitalization of city functions in the form of ‘smart cities’ may influence and/or change human-nature