Resilience and sustainable development: building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations

Ambio. 2002 Aug;31(5):437-40. doi: 10.1579/0044-7447-31.5.437.


Emerging recognition of two fundamental errors underpinning past polices for natural resource issues heralds awareness of the need for a worldwide fundamental change in thinking and in practice of environmental management. The first error has been an implicit assumption that ecosystem responses to human use are linear, predictable and controllable. The second has been an assumption that human and natural systems can be treated independently. However, evidence that has been accumulating in diverse regions all over the world suggests that natural and social systems behave in nonlinear ways, exhibit marked thresholds in their dynamics, and that social-ecological systems act as strongly coupled, complex and evolving integrated systems. This article is a summary of a report prepared on behalf of the Environmental Advisory Council to the Swedish Government, as input to the process of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in 26 August 4 September 2002. We use the concept of resilience--the capacity to buffer change, learn and develop--as a framework for understanding how to sustain and enhance adaptive capacity in a complex world of rapid transformations. Two useful tools for resilience-building in social-ecological systems are structured scenarios and active adaptive management. These tools require and facilitate a social context with flexible and open institutions and multi-level governance systems that allow for learning and increase adaptive capacity without foreclosing future development options.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Policy Making
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Conditions