Complexity and Resilience

Victor Galaz Stockholm Resilience Centre Stockholm University

How should we govern ourselves in an era of rapid global change?

Resilience capacity to deal with change, stress and shocks, and continue to develop

Adaptation ”Bounce back” Innovation Transformation

Individual Private company International organization Local community

Thresholds and “Tipping Points”


Land use change (deforestation, urban sprawl) Rapid urbanization Infrastructural development Eroded health infrastructure in the 1980s and 1990s ”Quick fix” solutions create more resistant vectors Climatic factors (El Nino Oscillation trigger larger

(irrigation systems, creation of new urban ”habitats”)


Dengue epidemic in Brazil, 2007-2008 1. Fast evolving surprise with the ability to create a crisis that cascades across system boundaries, and spatial scales 2. Complex and multilevel underlying drivers 3. Recombination potential with additional stresses, such as poverty, eroded health infrastructure, creates the possibility of an escalation of the crisis.

A New Generation of Ecological Crises?

Global changes in the political landscape
•Decentralization ”One of the most important global policy experiments” ”Decentralization can lead to more efficient governance, better link to local context” -> higher capacity to deal with complex problems Forest co-management, water management, ecosystem management, development projects, etc.

Public-Private Partnerships
Formalized collaboration between state actors and private/ non-state actors Expectation: more flexible and efficient way to reach political aims. Not privatization – not state controlled Water, health, biodiversity conservation, etc.

Non-Governmental Organizations

Increased number and participation of NGOs, ”think-tanks”, epistemic communities at all political levels. Biodiversity, climate policy, fisheries policy, m.m.

International agreements •Increased influence of multilateral agreements on national policy e.g. Kyoto-protocol, EU:s Framework Directives, Convention on Biological Diversity, World Trade Organization, etc 1960: 20 , 1990: 140, 2005: more than 700

Centralized decision-making
Central policy-maker (e.g. environmental ministry) Decision-making

Regional or local state authorities

Implementation and monitoring

Local natural resource users

Behavioral response

Decision-making in complex governance systems
International norms, agreements Central policy-maker (e.g. environmental ministry) Non-state actors Regional or local state authorities Decision-making, implementation, negotiations, partnerships Implementation, monitoring, negotiations, partnerships


Local natural resource users

Global Environmental Change + Global Political Change Are they compatible?

”Good Governance” according to the World Bank:
Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption.

Does ”good governance” lead to better protection of ecosystems?
Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence/ Terrorism, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption.

Forest Cover Change

Biodiversity (bird population)

High levels of corruption

Low levels of corruption


Enhances our capacity to deal with with uncertainty and change. Elinor Ostrom: no ”blue-prints” for ecosystem management. Folke: helps us recover and innovate. ”Portfolio of options to deal with change”.

Centralization vs decentralization
Decentralized Centralized systems systems + have overview, track long term + compensate for maladaptive changes,possibility to innovate in the face lower units of surprises, early warning, and prompt response - too far away to detect early warnings, - can be overwelmed by and innovate. Information congestion. disturbance, fail to coordinate with other ”small” units

Möbius strip

Too Good to be True?
“High Reliability Organizations” organizations with the capacity to cope with both incremental change and catastrophic surprises.

Capacity to collect and analyze very large amounts of information, detect early warning signals, and facilitate fast coordination of large number of actors. Decision-making dependent on the type of change in environment. High capacity for learning after crises, strong incentives to report and take initiatives to repair mistakes and cope with surprises.

Possible for large-scale organizations? Severe global change challenges? How? Where?

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