When optimization for governing human-environment tipping elements is neither sustainable nor safe

Wolfram Barfuss*, Jonathan F. Donges, Steven J. Lade, Jürgen Kurths

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Optimizing economic welfare in environmental governance has been criticized for delivering short-term gains at the expense of long-term environmental degradation. Different from economic optimization, the concepts of sustainability and the more recent safe operating space have been used to derive policies in environmental governance. However, a formal comparison between these three policy paradigms is still missing, leaving policy makers uncertain which paradigm to apply. Here, we develop a better understanding of their interrelationships, using a stylized model of human-environment tipping elements. We find that no paradigm guarantees fulfilling requirements imposed by another paradigm and derive simple heuristics for the conditions under which these trade-offs occur. We show that the absence of such a master paradigm is of special relevance for governing real-world tipping systems such as climate, fisheries, and farming, which may reside in a parameter regime where economic optimization is neither sustainable nor safe.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2354
    JournalNature Communications
    Volume9
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

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