Linking Ecological and Social Resilience

There are many linkages between social and ecological resilience. Human livelihoods and settlements rely on the resources and services provided by natural systems, whether located nearby or far away—a concept often referred to as the "ecological footprint." In the face of environmental changes, the resilience of communities that rely heavily on particular ecosystems will in part be determined by the capacity of those ecosystems to buffer against, recover from, and adapt to these changes and continue to provide the ecosystem services essential for human livelihoods and societal development. In turn, ecological resilience is influenced by the sus-tainability of the human behavior that has any impact on the environment: an ecosystem is more resilient when resources are used sus-tainably and its capacity is not exceeded.11 Climate is one of the most important factors influencing habitats and ecosystems and the abundance, distribution, and behavior of species. Climate change therefore carries severe implications for the sustainability of the world's ecosystems, and these impacts are already beginning to show. The ability of many ecosystems to adapt naturally is likely to be exceeded during this century by an unprecedented combination of change in climate and other global changes (including land use changes, pollution, and overex-

ploitation of resources). If global mean surface temperatures increase by more than 2-3 degrees Celsius, an estimated 20-30 percent of plant and animal species will be at increasingly high risks of extinction; substantial changes in the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems are also expected.12

The resilience of ecosystems to climate change depends in large part on the stresses, human and otherwise, that are already being faced. Natural systems will be better able to adapt if other stresses are minimized. For example, chronic overfishing, blast fishing techniques, and the pollution of water around coral reefs in South Asia have made them more vulnerable to cyclones and warmer sea temperatures. In this sense, social resilience to climate change may sometimes be at odds with ecological resilience: human adaptive strategies for socioeconomic development may increase pressure on marine and terrestrial ecosystems through changes in land management practices, shifts in cultivation and livestock production, and changes in irrigation patterns. In addition, more resilient and developed communities may have a greater capacity to exploit natural resources to support their adaptive strategies.13

Attempting to address ecological resilience from this standpoint might encourage a return to protectionist approaches to conservation in an attempt to minimize the impacts of people on nature. But that could actually decrease social resilience where people are forced away from certain ecosystem services, which may in turn put greater pressure on alternative natural resources that had previously been managed sustainably. Further, such an approach to building ecological resilience overlooks the close relationship between environmental and social vulnerability to climate change and fails to acknowledge the notion of resilience as a process rather than a return to a "stable" state. First, climate change is bringing new

Building Resilience pressures to ecosystems, so attempting to "restore" ecosystems in the context of a changing climate is inappropriate. For example, the notion of "invasive species" may become redundant as many species expand and retreat in reaction to changing climate patterns. Second, approaches to building ecological resilience must also focus on the socioeconomic development of the communities dependent on the ecosystem.

The close association between people and the environment is perhaps most apparent in poor rural societies in low-income countries that rely directly on ecological systems for environmental goods and services. Socioeconomic development can reduce dependence on single ecosystems by paving the way for diversification of livelihood activities, while reliance on a narrow range of resources can lead to social and economic stresses on livelihood systems, thereby constraining development. This is not a fixed relationship, however. Many people living in rural areas use diverse approaches to meet their basic needs, although these often rely strongly on land-based resources. At the same time, mono-crop agriculture often allows large landowners to become wealthy on the basis of a reliance on a single activity. This highlights an important point: the strength of association between ecological and social resilience is closely tied to the development context and is mediated by a variety of other factors, including wealth, ownership of land and the means of production, and social networks. In situations where human activity has such direct implications for ecosystem resilience, and where the type and level of these human activities are determined by the resilience of the ecosystem and the wider institutional context, integrated approaches to building resilience are essential.

This social resilience-ecological resilience-development nexus is evident in the coastal fishing communities in the Straits of Malacca in peninsular Malaysia. Following the Nagasaki Spirit oil spill in 1992, a study in Kuala Teriang, Malaysia, found that only 4 percent of individuals from non-fishing households reported any disruption in their activities or other impacts, including the ability to obtain fish for meals. In contrast, losses due to the oil spill were reported by 90 percent of fishers' households. The concentration of impacts in these households demonstrates the fishers' particularly high vulnerability, in part because their livelihood was tied to coastal resources. The resilience of the communities to the oil spill therefore depended both directly on ecosystem resilience (the ability of the coastal ecosystem to buffer against and recover from the impacts of the oil spill) and on the alternative livelihood options open to the fishers as the ecosystem regenerated. In turn, the resilience of the ecosystem was related to the extent to which social systems continued to exploit it in times of stress.14

So although building ecological resilience will certainly contribute to social resilience in resource-dependent communities, it is not enough. The institutional factors that tie a society to dependence on a narrow range of ecosystems must also be addressed. Adaptation strategies that focus on either social or ecosystem resilience must take into account the tight interactions between them—and then aim to address both. This requires a holistic approach that addresses the institutional barriers to sustainable development and livelihood diversification, as well as sound and participatory natural resource management strategies.

When considering how to build resilience in the face of climate change, therefore, it is necessary to consider not only the direct impacts of a changing climate on the environment but also the implications this has for

Building Resilience social resilience, the feedbacks on ecological vulnerability it may entail, and the wider institutional mechanisms that can enable this cycle to be broken. Building ecological resilience is essential, although not sufficient, for achieving social resilience. But achieving social resilience through sustainable development is essential for reducing pressures on ecosystems so they can adapt in the face of climate change.

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