Adaptive capacity of coupled socio-ecological systems to absorb climate extremes

Session lead: Dr. Kirsten Thonicke (PIK), Prof. Dr. Michael Bahn (University Innsbruck)

The ability of ecosystems to resist and recover from extreme climate events is of fundamental importance for the delivery of provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services. This links immediately to the socio-economic system, which not only relies on ecosystem services but also triggers management decisions that in turn affect ecosystem properties. The vulnerability of various processes in each system to extreme events is highly diverse and is buffered by multi-functionality. Society is steadily adapting to extreme events, by changing, e.g. the form, extent and intensity of land-use practices. Thus the resilience of both, the natural and the socio-ecological system, are closely interrelated. To date the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of socio-ecological systems to extreme events is not well understood and large uncertainties exist as to the legacies of extreme events on ecosystems and on related societal structures and processes.

The aim of this session is 1) to develop a new framework for the integrated assessment of impacts of climate extremes on socio-ecological systems and their resilience, accounting for legacy effects of climate extremes; 2) to identify a set of relevant common parameters for observations and measurements of societal and ecological responses and vulnerabilities to climate extremes; and 3) to propose approaches for determining the adaptation potential of coupled socio-ecological systems to climate extremes.

Specifically, the session will develop a new framework that allows describing the potential of coupled socio-ecological systems to absorb climate extreme events and options to adapt to climate extremes. This spans different types of (socio-)ecological systems, ranging from forests to grasslands, natural to managed lands, and lowland to alpine climate systems and societal systems, including social, political, economic and cultural structure and processes within the society. Moreover, we will combine experimental and modelling expertise from local to continental scales with decision-making at European and international levels.

Methods of ecosystem-based and socio-ecological modelling will be discussed to explore how the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of socio-ecological systems can be quantified, and which paradigm shifts or (inter)disciplinary expertise are needed to advance research in this field. To specify further impacts of climate extremes loss-and-damage assessment tools provide an important link between climate extremes and socio-ecological systems. The integration of both concepts will advance research in this field. To support knowledge transfer into decision-making processes, new transdisciplinary methods for the co-design and co-production of new knowledge are required which then aim to improve the mutual understanding and communication between the scientific and the non-scientific experts. The aim is to identify different ways how socio-ecological systems react and adapt to climate extremes, specifically under future climate change.

In order to address the three objectives of this session, we will structure the three blocks of the workshop session in the following way: the first block will start with three teaser presentations, one introducing the topic of the workshop and explaining its aims (presented by Kirsten Thonicke), the second presenting first ideas on the framework to quantify the integrated assessment of impacts of climate extremes on social and ecological systems with respect to different types of extremes and the associated ecosystem resilience (presented by Anja Rammig), and the third on identifying parameters for observations and measurements of the vulnerability of affected socio-ecological systems (presented by Michael Bahn). The presentations will integrate concepts suggested by all participants prior to the session and provide the baseline for the detailed discussion on identifying knowledge gaps to be filled with innovative research approaches during the session.

The second block will start with two teaser presentations on the stakeholder perspective and co-design of knowledge to focus on transdisciplinary approaches for developing new methods to assess the vulnerability of social-ecological systems to climate extremes, as proposed in the third objective. The stakeholder perspective will thus provide the baseline for matching the research questions identified in the first block with the requirements for co-design and co-development of scientific and non-scientific knowledge and methods with respect to the ecosystems perspective of extremes identified in this block. These research priorities will be synthesized and integrated in the research plan which is jointly written in the third block and which includes the presentation for synthesis in the plenary.