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Ecosystems and human wellbeing in the green economy - #futureeconomy - live blog

latest update: Friday May 30th, 11:20 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

From Monday May 26 to Friday May 30 a conference takes place on the topic of the green economy and the integration of ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

follow the conference on this blog, via the twitter hashtag  or by following a  

Lake Como (click picture for larger version)

Friday May 30th, 11:15 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Integrating perspectives to advance sustainability science 

With the conference coming close an end and many perspectives having been covered, the entirity of day four was spent in workshops working to define possible products from the conference. Finally eight groups broke out to work on advancing science about aspects of the future societal economy in relation to ecoystems and human wellbeing. The groups that span topics from ecosystem services and poverty reduction to the role of worldviews in international governance toward future economies all bring young scientists together with a diverse set of backgrounds, spanning humanities to physical sciencees.

You can find pictures from the day by clicking the picture below


Thursday May 29th, 11:00 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Society and media in future economies

The third day of the "ecosystems and human wellbeing in the green economy" conference, yet again, provided discussions around novel aspects on integrated science on environment and society in future economies.

Society and media will play an increasingly important role in the integrated study of societal transitions toward more environmentally and socially sustainable societal economies. There are basically two reasons for this.

First, it is clear that no sustainable transition is entirely a bottom-up or top-down driven process, but often a messy mix of many different stakeholders at various levels of organization in society.

Second, understanding the role of social movements and mass communication is becoming more important to scientists given the novel methods and partners academia might have to engage with in the co-production of relevant knowledge - of course a major transcending theme of .

For many scientists the engagment with stakeholders might be a daunting new aspect of work. A couple of the senior scientists at the conference tried to give some guidance by summarizing this complex field in some catchy take-home messages. The first and second rule of thumb to guide researchers' engagement with societal stakeholders was summarized brilliantly by Tom Ferguson and Chris Gordon. Tom Ferguson remarked first of all "Is what I'm hearing [from a societal stakeholder] true?", second, "[if yes, then] Why am I hearing it?". Chris Gordon added some edge to this in his framing - "Choose your [societal] partner carefully" and "... use protection".

An interesting example of how researchers have engaged with society to better understand environmental conflicts in society is the . This example was highlighted by Jennifer Clapp as one of the successful cases of engagement between science and society The atlas is produced by  "... a large EU project bringing science and society together to catalogue ecological distribution conflicts and confront environmental injustice."

The final component of the day was a skype-in presentation by Paul Lussier on the role of social and mass media in communication of sustainability research. An interesting take-away from the presentation was the contrasting role of mass and social media in persuading and informing the public from a scientists point-of-view. Paul tried to map-out the best pathways in the new complex media landscape for science to inform the public.


Wednesday May 28th, 11:00 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Day 3: Seeds for synthesis

After two days filled with perspectives on socio-ecological tipping points, good anthropocenes, good governance, political economy and sustainable business, today begins the process of the synthesis.

In addition, we will hear perspectives on social movements as well as ecosystems and human wellbeing from several of the senior scientists, including  and .

Stay tuned.

Tuesday May 27th, 19:30 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Future anthropocenes: Interplay between governance, finance & business

Today's discussions at the  conference were some of the more refreshing I have experienced in a while in the Future Earth related research communities situated around global environmental change and sustainable development.

One of the cross-cutting themes of the day was the question of how scientists can work with the public, industry and decision-makers to inform the current and changing role of vested interests in facilitating or preventing transitions to more environmentally and socially sustainable future economies.

Garry Peterson started by laying out criteria for the "good anthropocene". In this vision, a good anthropocene must be "fair", "prosperous", "sustainable & resilient" and, not the least, "FUN".

Garry showed some of the emerging issues that societies must be able to cope with in transition to future economies, including emerging diseases and teleconnected or telecoupled dynamicsbetween socio-ecological systems often far-apart, such as mass human migration.

The rest of the day highlighted the need for science to get a better grip on how decision-making at various levels is influenced by the economy.

Jennifer Clapp showed eight layers of complexity in governance with rich examples coming from food production. An important trend here is the influence of large companies in, often non-transparent, soft governance of food production. Part of the group discussion dwelled on how to get better data and better visualizations of changing dynamics in soft governance.

After lunch, Thomas Ferguson, showed potentially ground-breaking results on the role of money in American politics. The rest of the presentation was a whirlwind through examples of how environmental politics and regulation with examples from particularly taxation and trading schemes. The group discussion focused on how the many important aspects of political economy can be better incorporated into sustainability science and how hard-science approaches to economics can help inform, in a transparent way, the role of vested interests in environmental decision making. Is this a new arena for the sustainability science

Jacob Park rounded off the day with an overview of current trends and possible models for sustainable business. He highlighted the diverse role that businesses can play in societal transitions and drew examples from e.g. the . In this session I particularly found it interesting to think about possible future collaboration between the international research community and business e.g. in carrying out transparent research on what sustainable business models can look like.

For me the day was full of aspects that I think sustainability scientists in the future to a much higher degree must tackle head-on and in an open, transparent dialogue with the many societal stakeholders.

Brilliant young scientists at 

Tuesday May 27th, 09:30 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Day 2: Governance, political economy, business and visions of the green economy

Tuesday is in some ways the big day for the networking conference.

We will have four sessions with widely different perspectives on a future in the green economy.

First, we will hear about possible scenarios for "good anthropocenes" by  from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Second,  at University of Waterloo will address the important issue Governance Mechanisms in the societal transitions.

Third, personally I'm very excited to hear  speak on the Political Economy of Sustainable Systems.

Finally, , will run a session on Ecosystems, Poverty and Resilient Economics

This is looking to be a great day with lots of discussions.

Monday May 26th, 19:15 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Coming together: tipping points and early warning systems in socio-ecological systems

This morning's presentation and discussion session with Tim Lenton from University of Exeter was really a testimony to the diversity of perspectives and the high level of energy represented among junior as well as senior participants at the conference. It was like conference participants had been waiting without end to get started with the conference.

Tim provided an excellent overview of the many topics and scales at which tipping points and early-warning systems research is currently being carried out, many of the engaging examples coming from his own work.

As already mentioned, if the level of constructive engagement at the ensuing plenary discussion is a general indicator for the rest of the conference, a great meeting is awaiting. I particular found to aspects of the discussion stimulating.

Detecting positive tipping points in socio-ecological systems

An interesting part of the plenary discussion focused on management of tipping points in socio-ecological systems and in particular on identifying sources for case studies that can serve as illustrative examples. Tim highlighted the European Environmental Agency's Late Lessons from Early Warnings as an interesting source of cases. Species cases that were discussed ranged from CFC regulation, change in smoking habits, failure or success of resolution in armed or labour conflicts and current regulatory schemes for greenhouse gas emissions.

Are disciplines using different standards for detecting tipping points

Tom Ferguson from the Institute of New Economic Thinking raised the question of whether methods for rejecting stationarity in time series, i.e. thereby starting to look for multiple stable states and tipping points, are the same across economics (econometrics) and the ecological and physical sciences. The sense that stationarity is much more rarely rejected in economics compared to the ecological and physical sciences was interesting to ponder on. What would be the consequences for economics if they adopted approaches used in the ecological and physical sciences, and vice versa?

Monday May 26th, 09:15 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Conference gets underway

So finally it's time for the conference kick-off. In the first session we will hear short introductions to the main organizing institution,s The International Council for Science () and the International Social Science Council ().

Following these short introductions we are going to get a more thorough introduction to  from the Interim Executive Director, .



Sunday May 25th, 14:00 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

A wild boar: comparing narratives for new economies

Today most conference participants are arriving at Villa Vigoni. After a close encounter with a Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) this morning, I thought this would be a good time to try and address another wild animal head on; the terminology surrounding the "green economy" and other proposals for more sustainable economies. Are there real differences between the terms applied in various policy or research contexts or are they different words with the same meaning? For many non-economists, including myself, this question has been pretty hard to get a good grip on. However, a  in Ecological Economics by Emil Urhammer and Inge Røpke from December 2013 might now help cast light on this question.


In the paper entitled "" the authors compare what they call macroeconomic narratives, i.e. the suggested pathways for transitioning to more sustainable economies. The analysed narratives include "green growth" (GG), "green economy" (GE), "the great transition" (GT), "prosperity without growth" (PWG), "steady state economy" (SSE) and "degrowth" (DG).


As the authors state


All the narrators share some overall macroeconomic goals that should be combined with environmental improvements: employment, social stability, prosperity and wellbeing, but they disagree on the relationship between these goals and growth.


More specifically, the narratives are compared with regard to the tools proposed for (1) directing current 'supply and demand' dynamics in a green direction and (2) addressing more structural socioeconomic issues. The authors explain the difference between the two categories accordingly:


The first [supply and demand] category contains means for directing production, consumption and innovation towards a green transformation by the rules of the current economic system, while the second [structural category] contains means for the reconstruction of the system.


The results of the comparison are well illustrated in two tables, reproduced below. I won't go into the details in the differences, but encourage you to explore the tables yourself.

Table 1 - regulation of supply and demand

Table 2 - addressing socio-economic structures


Finally, as an analogy let me use two panorama shots of Lake Como. Both try to achieve the same general goal, illustrating the beauty of the lake and its surroundings. However, each shot is taking from slightly different angles and in different ligh settings. The consequence of these small differences is that the panoramas emphasize different aspects of the local landscape. In some ways I think this is similar to the many current narratives on economic transitions, different assumptions are applied and different tools emphasized in each narrative, but the stated overall goal of a more sustainable future is the same. For me the analysis by Urhammer and Røpke has the great virtue of making these assumptions and tools transparent and accessible for a general audience.

Lake Como panorama 1 - bright daylight and a bit to the right (click picture for larger version)

Lake Como panorama 2 - morning sun and a bit to the left (click picture for larger version)



Saturday May 24th, 17:30 local time - Villa Vigoni, Italy

Bridging disciplines in normative research

The flight from Copenhagen to Milano was a good opportunity to refresh some of the more or less recent literatue on the conference topic. I especially found isightful Stephen Polasky and Kathleen Segerson's reflections on a pragmatic basis from which ecologists and economists can start working toghether.

Here are a couple of quotes from the paper:

Stephen Polasky & Kathleen Segerson 2009 - Annual Review of Resource Economics - Integrating Ecology and Economics in the Study of Ecosystem Services: Some Lessons Learned

... [Much] of the debate over normative analysis of ecosystem services ultimately stems from differing views about why ecosystems are important and should be protected. Views that do not consider the benefits of ecosystems to human well-being (see Links 3 and 5 in Figure 1) cannot be reconciled with an economic efficiency approach to policy evaluation; hence, they preclude integration of economics and ecology in normative analyses.

So what is their proposed solution?

... economists and ecologists seeking to collaborate on normative analyses should focus on reaching agreement on the basis of the following premises:

  1. Evaluation of trade-offs is an important consideration in evaluating policy options.

  2. Trade-offs should be assessed on the basis of what affected individuals are willing to give up to secure, or demand in exchange for foregoing, an ecological improvement, regardless of why they are willing to make these exchanges.

  3. Individuals can reveal the exchanges or trade-offs they are willing to make through actual and/or stated choices.

[These premises] ... would not require agreement about why individuals want to protect ecosystems and would be willing to give up other goods and services toward that end. For these reasons, we believe it would be easier to get agreement among an interdisciplinary group of researchers on these premises than to resolve all of the issues and debates that can hamper collaborative efforts, as discussed in the previous section. We believe that refocusing the discussion around the relevance and assessment of trade-offs could allow interdisciplinary groups of people with differing views to move forward in integrating ecology and economics in normative analyses.

Roof tops around Villa Vigoni

Saturday May 24 7:50 local tme - Copenhagen Airport, Denmark

Conference setup

The Future Earth Young Scientists Networking Conference on Integrated Science entitled “Ecosystems and human wellbeing in the green economy” is organized by the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and the International Council for Science (ICSU), in collaboration with the International Network of Next Generation Ecologists (INNGE) and Institute for New Economic Thinking’s Young Scholars Initiative (INET YSI) and is part of a series of conferences on Integrated Science funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

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