When optimization for governing human-environment tipping elements is neither sustainable nor safe

Author(s): W. Barfuss, J.F. Donges, S.J. Lade, J. Kurths.
In: Nature Communications [DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04738-z]
Year: 2018
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Patterns of the Anthropocene
Link to centre authors: Donges, Jonathan, Lade, Steven
Full reference: W. Barfuss, J.F. Donges, S.J. Lade, J. Kurths. 2018. When optimization for governing human-environment tipping elements is neither sustainable nor safe. Nature Communications [DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04738-z]

Summary

Optimizing economic welfare in environmental governance has been criticized for delivering short-term gains at the expense of long-term environmental degradation. Different from economic optimization, the concepts of sustainability and the more recent safe operating space have been used to derive policies in environmental governance. However, a formal comparison between these three policy paradigms is still missing, leaving policy makers uncertain which paradigm to apply. Here, we develop a better understanding of their interrelationships, using a stylized model of human-environment tipping elements. We find that no paradigm guarantees fulfilling requirements imposed by another paradigm and derive simple heuristics for the conditions under which these trade-offs occur. We show that the absence of such a master paradigm is of special relevance for governing real-world tipping systems such as climate, fisheries, and farming, which may reside in a parameter regime where economic optimization is neither sustainable nor safe.

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