Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 6: Ecological and social resilience

W. Neil Adger and Jennifer Hodbod


The world needs to be resilient to changing circumstances and prospects: sustaining life, sustaining well-being and sustaining the environment into the future increasingly mean adapting to new circumstances and potentially unpredictable perturbations and challenges. Resource scarcity, food production and price volatility, coupled with climate change, demographic and cultural changes bring about new challenges for sustainable living. In the circumstances of global uncertainty and crises in the economy and the environment, a new emphasis on building resilience, and recognition of the linkages between elements of society and the ecosystems on which they depend, seems a critical contribution to sustainable development. Theories and observations on the resilience of a social-ecological system might be, and the identification of the mechanisms which link the wider environment with human well-being are, at the forefront of natural and social science for sustainability. Resilience, in its core meaning, is a property of a system. Hence, the concept is used in ecology to explain the behaviour of ecosystems and in psychology to individuals at different stages of their life-course (Brown and Westaway, 2011). There has been a significant evolution of the concept of resilience in ecology over the past decade in terms of its measurement and in terms of understanding how resilience interacts with other system properties such as diversity and stability. It has been demonstrated empirically that resilience is an essential factor underlying the sustainability of natural resources and ecosystem services (Gunderson and Holling, 2002).

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