Safe operating spaces for regional rural development: a new conceptual tool for evaluating complex socio-ecological system dynamics

This project developed the concept of 'safe operating spaces' for development to prevent misguided actions causing loss or damage to ecosystem services which undermine long-term sustainability.

Results were drawn from an ongoing Project Framework Grant project in the lower Yangtze basin and another project in Yunnan Province that combined conventional socio-economic records with reconstructed data for ecosystem services to show how close modern regions were to tipping points.

In the drive to increase the wealth of rural communities, there is always the danger that misguided action can cause losses or damage to ecosystem services that undermine long-term sustainability.  This project developed the idea of 'safe operating spaces' for development: defining the regional boundaries that can help inform optimum development pathways so as to avoid 'tipping points' that lead to irreversible change.  The project drew on results from the ESPA Programme Framework project in the lower Yangtze basin and another project in Yunnan Province that combine conventional socio-economic records with reconstructed data for ecosystem services to show how close the modern regions are to tipping points. An historical context is key to identifying the trends of different ecosystem services and how they may be driven towards or away from their limits. 

The team used newly mapped information for rural livelihoods and ecosystem services across China to help define the combinations of low poverty levels and stable ecosystem services that may constitute 'safe operating spaces'. The research provides significant findings about the complex dynamics of ecosystem services in two major regions of China and to develop a methodology that can be applied across ESPA regions and the world.

Authors: Zhang, K.; Dearing, J.A.; Dawson, T.P.; Dong, X.; Yang, X.; Zhang, W.
Year: 2015
Authors: Dearing, J.A.; Wang, R.; Zhang, K.; Dyke, J.G.; Haberl, H.; Hossain, M.Sarwar; Langdon, P.G.; Lenton, T.M.; Raworth, K.; Brown, S.; Carstensen, J.; Cole, M.J.; Cornell, S.E.; Dawson, T.P.; Doncaster, P.; Eigenbrod, F.; Florke, M.; Jeffers, E.; Mackay, A.W.; Nykvist, B.; Poppy, G.M.
Year: 2014
Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Researcher
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Researcher
Organisation: Klagenfurt University
Country: Austria
Researcher
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Researcher
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom