The speed and uncertainty of environmental change in the Anthropocene challenge the capacity of coevolving social–ecological–technological systems (SETs) to adapt or transform to these changes. Formal government and legal structures further constrain the adaptive capacity of our SETs. However, new, self-organized forms of adaptive governance are emerging at multiple scales in natural resource-based SETs. Adaptive governance involves the private and public sectors as well as formal and informal institutions, self-organized to fill governance gaps in the traditional roles of states. While new governance forms are emerging, they are not yet doing so rapidly enough to match the pace of environmental change. Furthermore, they do not yet possess the legitimacy or capacity needed to address disparities between the winners and losers from change. These emergent forms of adaptive governance appear to be particularly effective in managing complexity. We explore governance and SETs as coevolving complex systems, focusing on legal systems to understand the potential pathways and obstacles to equitable adaptation. We explore how governments may facilitate the emergence of adaptive governance and promote legitimacy in both the process of governance despite the involvement of nonstate actors, and its adherence to democratic values of equity and justice. To manage the contextual nature of the results of change in complex systems, we propose the establishment of long-term study initiatives for the coproduction of knowledge, to accelerate learning and synergize interactions between science and governance and to foster public science and epistemic communities dedicated to navigating transitions to more just, sustainable, and resilient futures.
Despite the growing focus on understanding how to build resilience, the interaction between resilience and equity, particularly in the context of power asymmetries like those in communities reliant on resource-based industries, or resource-based communities, is not well understood. Here we present a stylized dynamical systems model of asymmetric resource access and control in resource-based communities that links industrial resource degradation, community well-being, and migration in response to economic and resource conditions. The model reveals a mechanism of collapse due to these dynamics in which over-extraction and resource degradation trigger irreversible population decline. Regulating resource extraction can increase resilience (in the sense of persistence) while also shifting the sustainable equilibrium and the implications for equity. Resilience does not guarantee equity at equilibrium, and this misalignment is more pronounced in the transient interactions between short term equity and long term resilience. The misalignment between resilience and equity demonstrates how equity considerations change the policy design process in important ways.more » « less
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- Nature Publishing Group
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- Communications Earth & Environment
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- National Science Foundation
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