Let’s consider 2016 as a critical year for humanity. The idea that we face a number of global challenges threatening the very basis of our civilization at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities. However, there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of challenges and turn them into opportunities. Our civilization has never faced such existential risks as those associated with global warming, biodiversity erosion and resource depletion. On the other hand we never had such an opportunity to advance prosperity and eradicate poverty. We have the choice to either finally embark on the journey towards sustainability or to stick to our current destructive ‘business–‐as–‐usual’ pathway.
Over the past decades, few concepts have gained such prominence as resilience. There has been an explosion of research and policies into ways to promote resilient systems, but the content has often lacked a clear definition of what resilience actually means, let alone how to apply resilience thinking. Resilience is the capacity of a system, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.
Resilience starts from the belief that humans and nature are strongly coupled to the point that they should be conceived as one social-ecological system. This means that in our globalized society, there are virtually no ecosystems that are not shaped by people and no people without the need for ecosystems and the services they provide. The problem is that too many of us seem to have disconnected ourselves from nature and forgotten that our economies and societies are fundamentally integrated with the planet. Resilience is therefore an attempt to create a new understanding of how humans and nature interact, adapt and impact each other amid change. That is why we argue there is a need to reconnect to the biosphere.
There is no doubt humans have been successful in modifying the planet to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. But the gains achieved by this spectacular re-engineering have come at a price. It is now wide apparent and acknowledged that humanity’s use of the biosphere, is not sustainable.
One aspect of resilience thinking is about generating increased knowledge about how we can strengthen the capacity to deal with the stresses caused by environmental/ecological change. It is about finding ways to deal with unexpected events and crises and identifying sustainable ways for humans to live within the Earth’s boundaries. The latest science indicates that there are critical thresholds in the Earth system.
Transgressing them may lead to dramatic and irreversible environmental changes. We are probably edging very close to such thresholds and may already have crossed one with regards to melting of parts of Antarctica.
But resilience thinking is than operating within the biospheres boundaries. Ongoing political, economic, social, environmental and technological developments are challenging many of our underlying assumption. Across every sector of society, we are struggling to cope with heightened complexity and uncertainty resulting from the world’s highly interconnected nature and the increasing speed of change. Faster communication systems, closer trade and investment links, increasing physical mobility and enhanced access to information have combined to bind countries, economies and businesses more tightly together. In the coming decade our lives will be even more intensely shaped by transformative forces that are under way already. Societies are increasingly under pressure from economic, political and social developments including rising income inequality, but also increasing national sentiment and the increasing polarization of societies. An aging population and rise of chronic diseases, a growing middle class in emerging economies and income disparity, global population growth, rising geographic mobility, and urbanization must be taken in account. And last but not least, disruptive technologies and emerging innovations
It transcends borders and sectors, and hope to help create a shared understanding of the most pressing issues, the ways they interconnect and their potential negative impacts – are more relevant than ever. This shared understanding of challenges is needed as a base for multistakeholder collaboration, which has seen increasing recognition as the most effective way to address global risks and build resilience against them.
This overview is to inspire action, not to discourage, to stimulate deep-dive discussions of the risks posed by a resurgence of interlinked economic and geopolitical power plays, the rapid urbanization of the developing world and the exciting realm of emerging technologies, from synthetic biology to artificial intelligence.
It offers unprecedented opportunities for much-needed collective action, contribute to the debate on how we think about global risks, mitigate them and strengthen resilience.