Human actions play an increasing role in shaping the Earth's planetary environment, altering the interplay between the physical climate, land surface, oceans and life, at different spatial and temporal scales. These ecosystem changes are in turn affecting socio-economic performance and human wellbeing around the world.
To understand and (where possible) predict the co-evolution of the Earth system and human actions, to characterize risks of critical ecosystem transitions, to propose planetary boundaries for the sustainability ‘playing field’, and to evaluate potential new solutions for preventing, avoiding or mitigating the anticipated impacts of global changes, we need to radically improve our understanding and description of the interactions and feedbacks of societal, climatic and environmental change.
In this highly interdisciplinary session, we discuss innovative approaches for dealing with humans in the Earth system. These approaches may inform the management of thresholds and critical transitions, and the navigation of sustainable pathways for future development. We blend inputs from diverse research disciplines such as hydrology, climatology, ecology, agricultural sciences, systems sciences, economics and the social sciences, using multiple research approaches such as modelling, remote sensing data analysis and measurements at different spatial and temporal scales.
In the first part of the session, we focus on conceptual and methodological developments for exploring societal dynamics and transitions, especially those dealing with values and goals (i.e., addressing aspects of human wellbeing beyond people’s material interaction with the physical environment) and the definition of precautionary planetary boundaries.
In the second part, we turn our attention to real world issues with potentially serious consequences for the resilience of social-ecological systems up to the global scale. A focus will be on the processes and mechanisms that may trigger non-linear regime shifts in ecosystems and critical transitions in social systems. One theme is the impact of changes in land and water use on the hydrological cycle (convective activity, atmospheric circulation and moisture recycling), affecting the stability of natural and agricultural ecosystems and the viability of livelihoods that depend on them. Another is climate change mitigation and its links to ecological, biogeochemical and social change.