Why should we care at all about resilience? The biosphere – the sphere of life – is the living part of the outermost layer of our rocky planet, the part of the Earth's crust, waters and atmosphere where life dwells. It is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships. Humans are embedded parts of the biosphere and shape it, from local to global scales, from the past to the future. At the same time humans are fundamentally dependent on the capacity of the biosphere to sustain development. Humanity is indeed an embedded part of the biosphere shaping and reshaping its environment. In this sense humanity co-evolves with the planet and our beliefs, perceptions, choices and actions shape our future in the biosphere. Fundamental issues for humanity like democracy, health, poverty, inequality, power, human rights, security and peace all rest on the life-support capacity and resilience of the biosphere.
The situation of the Anthropocene – where the biosphere is shaped by humanity from local to global levels – reinforces that there are no ecosystems without people and no human development without support from the biosphere, hence, social–ecological systems. Humans and nature are truly intertwined and ecosystem services are critical for well-being. Analysing the world from historical, economic, geographical, ecological or other disciplinary approaches will provide bits of the puzzle. But, in the Anthropocene, the scale, speed and connectivity of human actions interact with the dynamics of the Earth system in new ways, which call for new understanding, new integrated approaches and collaborations across disciplines. Analysing situations of incremental change and assuming a stable environment is no longer the most fruitful way to understand the world and improve the human predicament. Viewing the world as a complex system is a more recent and promising approach that is emerging across the disciplines, including social and natural sciences as well as the humanities, and also the foundation of this book.
Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, Maja Schlüter and Michael Schoon have done an excellent job pushing the frontier of sustainability science and resilience thinking by orchestrating the inspiring chapters of Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social–Ecological Systems into a coherent and significant book.
Scope of the book
This book aims at synthesising our current state of knowledge and probing the key area of how recent insights from social–ecological systems and resilience research influence our understanding of water resource governance and management in a world subject to rapid global environmental change. It advances a proposed new framework on ‘water resilience’ as an integral part of sustainable water resource management. We have a focus on ecosystem services in productive landscapes, especially food production (and bioresources), seen from the perspective of land, water, ecosystem interactions and resilience building. Focus is on water resources from local to global scale, exploring dynamic interactions between sectors, components of the Earth system and scales. The book will therefore only briefly address water quality issues. The water resource focus of the book includes water flows from the local water balance to the global hydrological cycle – i.e. the governance and management of precipitation, vapour flows, as well as surface and sub-surface runoff flows and resources. It is, furthermore, global in scope, even though a particular focus is set on the regions of the world facing the most challenging future in terms of water resource scarcity and water resilience challenges related to current and future global environmental change. This means that a particular focus is given to the semi-arid and dry sub-humid tropical savannah regions of the world.
The water and ecosystems focus of the book, places the emphasis on the relations between freshwater and the living systems in the biosphere. The book thus takes as a starting point the role of water resources in the generation of ecosystem functions and services from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and how these define the resilience of ecosystems; how human interactions with water impact on ecosystem and resilience; and how innovative water governance and management principles can be applied to human challenges in an era of rapid global changes. In essence we attempt to advance a social–ecological systems approach to water resilience for human prosperity in the Anthropocene.
This chapter summarises the role of water in achieving global sustainability and human prosperity on an increasingly crowded planet – characterised by rising interdependence, turbulence, social–ecological interactions and uncertainty. Of particular concern is the increased likelihood of human-induced water-related tipping points in local and regional environments and even in the Earth System as a whole. These often surprising events are reflections of the loss of social–ecological resilience for dealing with change, and could have severe implications for societies and human well-being. The chapter addresses the shifts in governance and management cultures required of strategies for water resilience, and stresses that freshwater is the key to resilience in social–ecological systems. Maintaining redundancy in landscapes through a high degree of biodiversity and a rich mosaic of different land-use types is a key strategy for building resilience and sustaining rainfall and the ‘wetness’ of landscapes.
Key messages and building blocks
This chapter addresses these challenges in integrating the different streams of analysis contained in this volume – from the social–ecological pressures on the planet to the IWRM practices available to communities across the world to improve land and water management. It attempts to weave together a ‘waterway forward’ for integrated land and water resource management in the new Anthropocene era. It does so within the framework of the two key messages of the book. First, that human development and wealth originates from social–ecological systems, which all require freshwater for their ability to generate ecosystem functions and services, and to provide social–ecological resilience. From this follows that misuse of freshwater resources challenges not only human well-being, but also social–ecological resilience and the capacity of societies to deal with change, persist and continue to develop.
This chapter analyses the pressure on the Earth System caused by escalating agricultural production from the perspective of efforts to feed a growing human population. The focus is on the situation by 2050. Particular attention is paid to improvements in water productivity and efforts to close the currently large yield gap in the developing world. Presented estimates reveal what can be achieved on what is currently cropland. What emerges is a carrying capacity overshoot for more than half the world’s population, which must be compensated for through virtual water transfers in food traded from water surplus countries. The chapter analyses the ability of the agricultural system and its support systems to cope with shocks and change in the Anthropocene era, and the adaptability and social–ecological resilience required to deal with a more turbulent world.
Food demand trajectories and water preconditions
Hunger alleviation and population increase: two strong driving forces at work
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, increasing food production to meet the needs of a growing world population was essentially a case of continuing the expansion of the area of cultivated land. As far back as the nineteenth century there was a growing pessimism about the possibility of feeding a constantly growing population, which was put into words by Thomas Malthus (1766–1834). During the twentieth century the global population increased by more than 350%, from 1.65 billion to more than 6 billion (UNDP, 2004).
After World War II, rapid population increases were not matched by an equal increase in food production in many of the newly independent developing countries. As a result, by the mid-1960s many of these states were dependent on massive food aid from the industrialised world. In 1967, a report by the US President’s Science Advisory Committee stated that ‘the scale, severity and duration of the world food problem are so great that a massive, long-range, innovative effort unprecedented in human history will be required to master it’ (IFPRI, 2002).
The focus of this chapter is the transformation of water governance required for living with the new water dynamics in the Anthropocene, and the expansion needed from the conventional blue water perspective. It discusses the integrated governance and management required for resilience building, including desirable landscape patterns of ecosystem services, and how to overcome past governance failures from a sustainability perspective. It stresses that resilience building comprises precautionary management for stewardship of precipitation, the need for cross-sectoral integration, and the overcoming of inertia of rigid or dysfunctional bureaucracies, making good use of emerging windows of opportunity.
The Anthropocene era: novel governance and management
People and societies are embedded parts of the biosphere and depend on its functioning and life-support systems. However, in the Anthropocene era, humanity is also shaping the biosphere globally (Steffen et al., 2007; Steffen et al., 2011) in what are referred to as social–ecological systems (Berkes and Folke, 1998). When the functioning of these intertwined systems is altered, there is a high risk that adaptations to local conditions, such as the optimisation of agriculture to historical precipitation regimes, will no longer be sufficient.
The previous chapters have demonstrated that water plays a central role as the bloodstream of the biosphere, connecting people and places, affecting livelihoods and influencing social–ecological resilience. Clearly, we are operating in a new terrain in which truly integrated, complex systems interact at multiple scales from the local to the global, and we are confronted with turbulent times (Folke et al., 2011; Walker and Meyers, 2004).
The focus in this chapter is the human forcings in the Earth System at large, and their origin in multiple drivers of change: demographic, economic development, urbanisation, technological development, international trade and foreign direct investment, climate change, and national and international policies. The chapter shows in what ways the Earth System has responded by different kind of impacts and feedbacks, and discusses the risk of approaching crucial thresholds and tipping points in the Earth System. Special attention is paid to the world’s most water-dependent system: agricultural production and human food security.
Humans have altered the Earth System through multiple drivers of change
Anthropogenic pressures are multiple, complex and equal in magnitude to some of the great forces of nature – and they are accelerating. They interact with each other and can trigger abrupt, non-linear changes if they cross critical thresholds. It has been recognised for some time that key environmental parameters have moved well beyond the range of natural variability, and that the magnitude and rate of change are unprecedented (from the Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change; Moore et al., 2001).
The Earth System is seen, in this book, as the highest level unit containing connected sub-systems and components at all scales, with levels of organisation beyond individual building blocks. Given the complexity of this system, it will not be possible to anticipate all the pressures, interactions and feedbacks between the different components. We should expect further surprises, including non-linear responses and sudden regime shifts or abrupt, often unexpected, changes resulting from a disturbance or shock – usually resulting in an alternate stable state – as well as large and persistent changes in structure and function.
A key driver of change is the need to increase food production and associated biomass appropriation for a growing, more affluent and increasingly urbanised population (resulting in increasing competition for water, land and other natural resources). The impacts of this driving force vary between different regions.
This chapter addresses the involvement of water in abrupt and unexpected changes in social–ecological systems. It looks more closely at water’s many roles in reinforcing processes and stabilising feedbacks, and how systems suffer when feedback processes weaken or break. It discusses water-related disturbances and feedbacks, different categories of regime shift and ways of enhancing resilience. The issue of traps is discussed, both green water-related poverty traps, involving self-enforcing mechanisms, and blue water-related rigidity traps, when people and institutions resist change. The chapter explains the use of transformation management to get out of traps.
Rapid, accelerating and surprising changes in the Anthropocene era
Many of the changes in the GWS are rapid and can be surprising. Some are accelerating, but change can also be smooth and gradual. Most importantly, some change can be turbulent and abrupt, and result in non-linear responses from human, economic or ecological systems, with effects that are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Documented cases include the collapse of marine cod fisheries in 1992 (Hutchings, 1996), the collapse of Saharan vegetation 6–8000 years ago (Foley et al., 2003) and the financial crises of 2008, all of which caused rapid and unprecedented reductions in resource availabilities with abrupt, unforeseen and negative effects on human well-being.
The Anthropocene era has seen an increase in the links between humans and the environment, at multiple scales. Freshwater plays a significant role in this context, through its capacity to link different systems and places. Intricate cross-scale interactions play out in novel ways, which connect distant peoples and places (Adger et al., 2008; Galaz et al., 2010) reshaping the capacity of the biosphere to sustain human well-being (Folke et al., 2011) and increasing the risk of abrupt change.
Why yet another book on water? Partial thinking and sectoral approaches have dominated resource and environmental management for too long, and this is also true for freshwater. Perspectives are rapidly changing, however, expanding on the conventional perception of freshwater as ‘blue water’ – a natural resource to be extracted from rivers and groundwater for households, industry, irrigation and economic production. Integrated water resource management (IWRM), although still predominantly concerned with the blue water branch of the water cycle, has extended the focus to interacting sectors in catchments. More recently, water vapour or ‘green water’ has increased focus in the policy arena on issues such as rainfed agriculture. The role of freshwater in ecosystem services, both terrestrial and aquatic, is now on the agenda, as well as work on their water trade-offs or in relation to water-related tipping points in dynamic landscapes. New approaches are emerging, such as adaptive water governance of landscapes and catchments.
The biosphere – the sphere of life – is the living part of the outermost layer of our rocky planet – the part of the Earth’s crust, oceans and atmosphere where life dwells. It is the global life-support system that integrates all living beings and their relationships. Life on Earth interacts in myriad ways with the chemistry of the atmosphere, the circulation of the oceans and the water cycle, including solid water in polar and permafrost regions, to form favourable conditions for life on Earth. People and societies are integrated parts of the biosphere, dependent on its functioning and life support.
This chapter analyses the implications of agricultural expansion on landscape multifunctionality in terms of water, and the related functions of agro-ecosystem services. Through manipulation of water stocks and flows, and landscape characteristics it is feasible to transform agricultural land from degraded to intermediate levels of multiple ecosystem services or beyond. The focus is on water balance alteration and within-stream and downstream effects for other users. The chapter highlights the landscape-scale resilience perspective, based on a set of landscape-scale indicators. It analyses three landscapes with rainfed cultivation, all in the tropical, semi-arid and sub-humid zone and under rapid transformation, and concludes that there is still potential to better utilise water functions and ecosystem services in most agricultural systems.
Social–hydrological–ecological systems at the landscape scale
Healthy water flows are key to sustaining the multiple ecosystem services that underpin the sustainability of social–ecological systems at the landscape scale (meso-scale, here defined as 1–10 000 km2 after e.g. Blöschl, 1996; Montanari and Uhlenbrook, 2004). Water shapes a range of provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural ecosystem services, directly and indirectly through the presence or absence of water in time and space. This chapter discusses fundamental aspects of water and ecosystem services, and the management of these, with a particular emphasis on tropical, semi-arid and sub-humid zones experiencing rapid transformation and development for human benefit.
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