Program on Ecosystem Change and Society

Project leader

Funding source

Mistra - The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research


Human wellbeing and the Earth system on which it depends are in transition. Even as human wellbeing and its distribution among peoples and places are changing, for the first time in our history as a species we have clear evidence of our own role in transforming the planet. Global changes include profound alterations of ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity. Drivers of environmental change are likely to intensify as human population grows and per- capita consumption expands. Some of the changes to the Earth system and ecosystem services have improved access for millions of people to food, water, and other basic needs. On the other hand, unintended consequences from these changes threaten food security, energy security, human health, livelihoods and other aspects of our wellbeing. On the other hand, our awareness of these changes, expanding understanding of social-ecological systems and our capacity for action offer the hope of effective response. The challenge of sustainable development is to grasp this opportunity and transform social-ecological systems to provide food, water, energy, health and human security in a manner that is economically, ecologically and socially viable for many generations in the future and for people in all parts of the world in the current timeframe.

There has been some recognition by global policy fora and agencies (e.g. CBD, World Food Summit, Diversitas Congress, IUCN, UNESCO and others) and important actors and stakeholders in development and environment communities that actions in support of ecosystems services are urgent and need to be global and effected at several scales. We seem to be at a crucial juncture where science and technology, communities and policy can begin to work together to achieve more favorable planetary conditions, ecosystem services and sustainable development for human wellbeing. A great diversity of institutional arrangements, policies and practices have been proposed to achieve these goals. Yet how do we choose among the many options? Success and failure appear to be context-specific; no particular policy or practice is likely to solve all problems, in all places and times. At present, there are critical gaps in our knowledge of the social, biological, biogeochemical and physical foundations needed to make decisions for a sustainable future (Carpenter et al. 2009).

The goal of PECS, the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society, is to understand transformations toward or away from sustainable development, including mitigation of poverty and environmental degradation, by focusing on human development and sustainability of natural capital as a research agenda. Thus PECS aims to link scientific and environmental knowledge to society and policy. PECS research should be explicitly interdisciplinary and intersectoral, and thereby seeks to break down the barriers that have impeded understanding of social-ecological transformations. PECS aims to understand interactions across scales, such as fast and slow drivers of social and ecological change, thresholds, traps and time lags, in order to identify appropriate operational scales. A comparative, place-based approach, which must explicitly be international in scope, is at the core of PECS research.

Last updated on 2017-23-03 at 09:04

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