Tag Archives: Oran Young

Resilience 2011 slides and videos

Slides and videos for keynote and invited speaker presentations at Resilience 2011 are now available online.



I didn’t see all of these talks, but those that I did see were good. I particularly recommend Bill Clark, Elinor Ostrom, Carlo Jaegar, and Marten Scheffer’s talks.

Institutional Dynamics and Emergent Patterns in Global Governance

Can environmental regimes really be viewed as complex dynamic systems? Oran Young makes a nice effort in his latest book “Institutional Dynamics – Emergent Patterns in International Environmental Governance” (MIT Press, 2010). While the study of environmental and resource regimes certainly has a strong track record in political science and international relations, Young makes a novel and detailed analysis of what he calls “emergent patterns” – patterns of institutional change that arise over time from the dynamics of complex systems (pp. 8). Young observes, and unpacks five patterns:

Progressive development: this patterns starts with a framework convention followed shortly by one or more substantive protocols that are amended and extended to accommodate new information. Example: stratospheric ozone, and the Montreal Protocol.

Punctuated equilibrium: this pattern occur in cases where regimes encounter periodic stresses which trigger episodes of regime building and change. Example: The Antarctic Treaty System.

Arrested development: here, regimes get off to a promising start but then run into barriers or obstacles that block further development. Example: climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Diversion: this pattern includes regimes that are created for one purpose, but later are redirected in a manner that runs counter to the original purpose. Example: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Collapse: this pattern includes cases where regimes have been in operation for some time, but then encounters external or internal stresses and transforms into a “dead letter”. Example: North Pacific Sealing Convention.

Young recently published an article [PDF] for Global Environmental Change on this topic. You can also listen to an interview with him here.

The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences

This is one of those important things that seldom make the headlines. While climate change science has received considerable public attention, especially since the controversies around the IPCC scientific assessments, another fact is seldom, if ever, acknowledged – that  a number of international global change programmes are reorganizing to better match the increasing need for policy-relevant, integrated sustainability science.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) as an example, has been reorganizing its work the last years, to better integrate the natural and social sciences and acknowledge the non-linear features of global change. This integration is to be developed by a range of ESSP associated research programmes and projects, including (prepare for an alphabet soup….) DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, GWSP , GECHH, START and MAIRS. This paper lays out the thinking behind the ongoing reorganization.

One important change under the ESSP, and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, is the reorganization of the previous programme Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC, lead by the international institutions legend Oran Young), into a new initiative: the Earth System Governance Project (ESG). The ESG, lead by Frank Biermann in Amsterdam, aims to study the role of multilevel governance, institutions and actor-networks in dealing with global environmental change, and includes several international research centres.

In addition, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations University, is launching a new international initiative based on the insights and framework provided by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS). PECS ambition is to address the following question: ‘how do policies and practices affect resilience of the portfolio of ecosystem services that support human well-being and allow for adaptation to a changing environment?’. PECS will provide scientific knowledge to the newly launched “IPCC-like” Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An article published in PNAS in 2009, lays out the thinking behind the PECS programme.

So, if you ever get the question “where are the scientists that will help save the world”, the answer is easy: it’s ESSP, PECS, DIVERSITAS, ICSU, IPBES, ESG, IHDP, IGBP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, ….

The Crises of Nature, The Nature of Crises

Maybe it’s just part of my personal PCSD (Post Copenhagen Stress Disorder), but it seems like one of the most interesting topics emerging in frontiers of the earth system governance agenda, is that of building global institutions able to deal with not only incremental environmental change (e.g. biodiversity loss, land use change, climate change), but also crises.

Crises events (i.e. unexpected, high uncertainty, cascading dynamics, limited time to act) pose from an institutional point of view, quite different challenges than those normally addressed by the global environmental governance research community. These are related to the need for early warnings, multilevel networked responses, and improvisation. In addition, crises forces us to reconsider the way we look at communication technologies in global environmental governance [e.g. "Pandemic 2.0" in Environment here].

Oran Young’s brief talk from 2008 on adaptiveness and environmental crises, is not about environmental regimes in the conventional sense, but rather about the importance of role plays, simulations, and deliberations around unlikely, but high impact, scenarios:

The Center on International Cooperation (New York University) in addition, just recently launched a report entitled “Confronting the Long-term Crisis – Risk, Resilience and International Order”, that pretty much reiterates the point that debates around global governance are moving towards an agenda that focus not only single global environmental stresses, but also on multiple, interacting social-ecological ones.

This issue was also raised by Brian Walker and colleagues in a policy forum in Science last year.   You can watch an interview with him here.

*  I owe the catchy title to my colleague Fredrik Moberg at Albaeco.

Special Issue Online: The Politics of Resilience

Does “resilience thinking” offer novel insights for social scientists such as political scientists, international relation scholars, lawyers and policy analysis experts? Or is it just a another ecological concept with little or no relevance for the social sciences? The topic is one of the most contested ones, as indicated by the popularity of a previous review of Hornborg’s critique of resilience theory posted a while ago. Here is another take on the issue.

In February 2009, we gathered a prominent group of social scientists in Stockholm, for a workshop to elaborate the implications of resilience theory for political science, law, and international relations. We also wanted to discuss its possible implications for critical global challenges such as environmental migration. Where lies the concepts strengths and weaknesses? Is it at all fruitful to talk about “social resilience”? And how do we get a better grip of the politics of learning, flexibility and multilevel governance in complex systems?

The result of these discussions are now available online in the special issue “Governance, Complexity and Resilience” for the journal Global Environmental Change. While the volume as a whole is still in production, a few of the articles are available online already. Just to give you a preview of its contents:

Dr. Koko Warner from the Institute for Environment and Human Security, examines the range of multiscale drivers that trigger environmentally induced migration, and elaborates a range of political and institutional implications. In her contribution, resilience thinking contributes to a wider understanding of the multilevel governance challenges facing policy-makers and a suite of organizations, in trying to deal with underlying social-ecological dynamics. The article is available here.

Prof. Jonas Ebbesson, law scholar from Stockholm University associated to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, elaborates the role of law in steering social-ecological systems. One interesting argument in the paper, is that while law often is viewed as static, and too rigid to rapidly changing circumstances, some aspects of legal thinking and the implementation of law also support aspects of resilience, such as openness and broad participation to cope with complexities and common risk. The article is available here.

Prof. Melissa Leach and colleagues from the STEPS Centre (UK), make a very timely contribution by looking closer at the politics of global epidemic preparedness and response. In their article, Leach and colleagues argue that resilience is inherently a matter of social framing by actors, especially when problems (such as emerging infectious disease) are driven by complex underlying social-ecological factors in contested social settings. The article is available here.

You can also find contributions from Prof. Susan Owens on the politics of learning [here], as well as from Prof. Oran Young and others at the journal’s webpage in the next few weeks.

In all, we hope that this volume is able to push the boundaries of resilience theory and thinking into new empirical and theoretical terrain. We look forward to hear what you think.