PhD position at Stockholm Resilience Centre

The research program “Governance of the Baltic Sea – a response to ecological regime shifts” at the Baltic Nest Institute and Stockholm Resilience Center is looking for a Political Science PhD student.

The project runs from 2009-2012, andaims to develop guidelines for adaptive  management of both coastal and marine environments (with special focus on the Baltic Sea). The application deadline is very soon – Feb 14th, 2009.

The project is run by associate Professor Christoph Humborg and Professor Carl Folke.  For more information about the research project and information on the position contact
Associate Professor Christoph Humborg (christoph.humborg @

More information on training at postgraduate level in science and application procedure are available on

The project is described below:

Governance of the Baltic Sea – a response to ecological regime shifts?

The widespread degradation of marine ecosystems like the Baltic Sea results to a large extent from a failure of governance. Problems with eutrophication and other pollutants, overfishing, habitat degradation, introduced species and illegal oil discharges are common in a number of regional seas managed in an international context. The specific Baltic problems are relatively well known by scientists and policy makers. The knowledge and sense of urgency for dealing with them varies substantially between citizens in the bordering states, thus creating e.g. regional differences in the level of political pressure. Traditional focus on single-species resources in fisheries and aquaculture has created organizational and institutional structures with compartmentalized decision-making processes, leading to narrow policy instruments that create incentives for policies and actions that undermine sustainability. Such governance is ill prepared to respond to the complexity of dynamic ecosystems or build an adaptive capacity for coping with change and uncertainty. These approaches are often overwhelmed by global economic drivers and cannot address the complex threshold dynamics of linked social–ecological systems. There is an urgent need for new flexible, integrated, holistic forms of governance that can deal with the complexity of social-ecological systems (SES), and their associated services. Adaptive management, adaptive co-management, ecosystem management, and various forms of formal and informal integrated resource management are all promising approaches in this context. However, these governance modes are in need of further exploration to be able to fully incorporate the dynamics of social-ecological systems. The latter implies much more than stakeholder participation and integrated planning, it implies; being able to deal with both uncertainty and abrupt change; enhance learning of complex SES; promote experimentation and innovation; and supporting cross-scale institutional linkages.

The search for better approaches to ensuring sustainable outcomes has helped develop important principles and protocols for ecosystem-based management of marine resources. These acknowledge ecosystems as complex dynamic systems and address the mismatch between social systems and ecosystem dynamics. Typically, prevailing approaches emphasize spatial planning, usage zoning, and marine protected areas. However, the burgeoning literature on ecosystembased management offers few empirically based insights into social–ecological strategies that make transitions to such management possible.

In this project we focus on the Baltic Sea and on understanding shifts toward multi level governance modes that enable ecosystem based-management of large scale-ecosystems. We focus on the emergence of new international institutions as part of governance regime formation in relation to ecosystem dynamics. More specifically, we focus on the interplay among individual actors in networks, organizations, and institutions at multiple levels in order to understand the dynamic processes that underlie the emergence of new forms of governance.

The project focuses on five core issues:

1) Understanding the evolution of the current governance system. This will provide a map of the complex socio-political landscape of the region and it will also help to identify some of the key factors that create lock-in traps, political gridlocks, and path-dependence that tend to hinder shifts from current governance regime.

2) Understanding how the current governance system responds to perturbations, both to social changes (like new scientific knowledge, new policies, and economic crisis) and ecological changes (like fish stock collapse, extreme algae blooms, etc). The aim is to produce a typology of responses of the current multi-level governance system and identify mismatches between the governance system and the Baltic Sea ecosystem. This will also help identify new initiatives that could help steer away from unsustainable trajectories and promote a transition to new a governance regime that support ecosystem-based management.

3) Currently, a number of decision support systems are being used for the management of diverse resources. IPCC has generally been very successful in communicating science to policy makers and contributing to developing strategies for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The RAINS model used for defining sensitive areas for acidification and critical loads of acidifying substances in Europe has been a success story for reducing negative environmental impacts. The Nest model has recently been adopted as a key instrument for allocating nutrient reduction quotas for the Baltic Sea. A number of additional models exist. This study will compare the political processes leading to implementation of these models and constraints on the way in order to understand when and how decision support model can be used successfully.

4) Understanding the leadership and strategies for navigating the complex socio-political contexts of the Baltic Sea region in order to achieve a shift to a new governance regime that supports ecosystem-based management. We will focus on new initiatives including emerging networks, partnerships, political initiatives and new groundbreaking legislation (e.g. the Swedish governments’ initiative for making the marine region a top priority during the 2009 EU chairmanship, the implementation of the new EU marine strategy directive, the HELCOM Action plan, and the recent government/NGO initiative to invite Australian counterparts to learn from their experiences), which provide social innovations that can be the seeds for a shifts toward a new sustainable direction for the governance of the Baltic Sea. We will analyze the strategies and actions that are used by individuals and organizations within these initiatives to overcome barriers to change and the diffusion of new ideas and transfer of knowledge and experience from one area to another.

5) Given 1-4 above, we will also focus on mechanisms for incorporating an understanding of ecosystem dynamics into governance systems to build capacity for managing ecosystem services. Therefore, this study will focus on the present and potential role Nest can play in future development of marine policies in the Baltic Sea and beyond. What success-criteria used elsewhere has not been integrated in the interface between Nest and the political arena and what potential needs from policy makers can Nest fill.

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