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Sustainability Risk: A social-ecological systems perspective
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8756-1649
2024 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Today’s world is characterised by new levels of complexity; however our societies remain deeply embedded in and dependent on a functioning biosphere. A biosphere that is increasingly being degraded by human activities. In this complex and intertwined world, acute shocks as well as chronic pressures of unsustainable activities have therefore become a prevalent feature. Together these shocks and chronic pressures create a complex risk landscape that we need to navigate with inter- and transdisciplinary solutions. However, the study of risk and the risk assessment tools in use, are siloed into scholarly disciplines and mismatched with the complexity at hand. In this thesis I tackle this mismatch, by using a social-ecological systems perspective and a variety of methodological approaches. Together the four papers of the thesis develop the interdisciplinary concept of sustainability risk and start to operationalise it through the application to national food systems and corporate sustainability risk assessment. Paper I introduces the concept of sustainability risk that I use and develop through-out the thesis. The paper also summarises some of the key definitions of risk within different disciplines and proposes five key dimensions that need to be adapted and developed in order for the existing risk assessment methods to fully capture risks in a complex world. Papers II-IV all represent applications of the concept of sustainability risk to different contexts. Paper II addresses national food supply risks and highlights how diverse risks to national self-sufficiency can come from low self-sufficiency (resulting in risk from trade disruptions) and low production diversity (resulting in risk from production shocks). Paper III addresses the data limitations we encounter when attempting to assess corporate sustainability risk and aims to overcome some of these limitations by developing fifteen novel reporting variables. These variables also contribute to the ongoing efforts to standardise corporate sustainability reporting. Paper IV builds on Paper III and develops an initial framework for assessing the risks to long-term natural resource production emanating from the impacts of corporate activities, thus broadening the conceptualisation of what risk is and how we assess it in the corporate sphere. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University , 2024. , p. 51
Keywords [en]
Sustainability risk, systemic risk, complex systems, social-ecological systems, corporate sustainability reporting, food security, resilience
National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-228761ISBN: 978-91-8014-815-3 (print)ISBN: 978-91-8014-816-0 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-228761DiVA, id: diva2:1854439
Public defence
2024-06-14, hörsal 4, hus 2, Albano, Albanovägen 18 and online via Zoom, public link is available at the department website, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-05-22 Created: 2024-04-25 Last updated: 2024-05-13Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Adapting risk assessments for a complex future
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Adapting risk assessments for a complex future
2022 (English)In: One Earth, ISSN 2590-3330, E-ISSN 2590-3322, Vol. 5, no 1, p. 35-43Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Human activities have progressively eroded the biosphere basis for our societies and introduced various risks. To navigate these risks, or potential undesirable outcomes of the future, we need tools and an understanding of how to assess risk in a complex world. Risk assessments are a powerful tool to address sustain ability challenges. However, two issues currently hamper their ability to deal with sustainability risks: the limited sustainability science engagement with the multifaceted nature of risk and the lack of integration of social-ecological, complex, and resilience thinking into risk assessment. In this Perspective, we review and synthesize the wide range of risk definitions and uses and juxtapose them with knowledge on complex adaptive social-ecological systems. Through this synthesis, we highlight the strengths of each risk approach and outline five challenges that, if overcome, could turn risk assessments into a much-needed multifaceted toolbox for dealing with the certain uncertainty of a complex future.

Keywords
risk, risk assessments, resilience, sustainability, uncertainty, complex systems, social-ecological systems
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-202253 (URN)10.1016/j.oneear.2021.12.004 (DOI)000747829500009 ()
Available from: 2022-02-22 Created: 2022-02-22 Last updated: 2024-04-25Bibliographically approved
2. A global analysis of potential self-sufficiency and diversity displays diverse supply risks
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A global analysis of potential self-sufficiency and diversity displays diverse supply risks
2023 (English)In: Global Food Security, ISSN 2211-9124, Vol. 37, article id 100673Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

International trade plays a fundamental role in today's globalized food system, however, trade-related disruptions to national food supply have become increasingly prevalent. Although national food self-sufficiency and the resilience of domestic food production are both increasingly discussed, they are rarely investigated in tandem. This hinders our understanding of the diversity of risks to national food supply. In this article we investigate the contribution of production to these risks, through the compilation of a comprehensive national production dataset and a multi-indicator assessment of self-sufficiency and diversity. Our results show that most of the world (127 countries and territories, 87% of the global population) achieves high levels of potential self-sufficiency (≥6 nutrients fulfilled), however only 33% of the world population (41 countries) are fully self-sufficient. Of countries with high levels of self-sufficiency, fruit and vegetable production (a proxy for many micronutrients) is the most common “missing” sufficiency. 66 countries (6% of population) have a low degree of self-sufficiency, highlighting potential vulnerability to trade-related disruptions. The relationship between sufficiency and diversity is not homogeneous, highlighting that some production systems are reliant on very few products.

Keywords
Food production, Self-sufficiency, Diversity, Risk, Resilience
National Category
Other Agricultural Sciences Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-216882 (URN)10.1016/j.gfs.2023.100673 (DOI)000959452800001 ()2-s2.0-85150458759 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2023-05-15 Created: 2023-05-15 Last updated: 2024-04-25Bibliographically approved
3. Essential environmental impact variables: A means for transparent corporate sustainabilityreporting aligned with planetary boundaries
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Essential environmental impact variables: A means for transparent corporate sustainabilityreporting aligned with planetary boundaries
2024 (English)In: One Earth, ISSN 2590-3330, E-ISSN 2590-3322, Vol. 7, no 2, p. 211-225Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Despite numerous pledges to the contrary, corporate activities are inflicting environmental harm and are pushing the Earth system toward and beyond planetary boundaries. Several sustainability accounting frameworks exist, designed to track corporate environmental impacts through corporate reporting, and there is currently a push toward standardization of these. However, most sustainability accounting frameworks still fail to fully capture the connections between corporate activities and impacts, as they depart from what is important for the companies (materiality assessments) and often rely on relative metrics. Here, we propose 15 essential environmental impact variables (EEIVs), applicable to all sectors, based on absolute metrics and what is essential for staying within the planetary boundaries. We argue that standardization must rather depart from these underlying premises. By designing EEIVs for seven primary industries with large environmental footprints and demonstrating the operationality via the aquaculture sector, we show how EEIVs efficiently identify the most important corporate impact information while increasing transparency between companies and stakeholders, thus enabling external assessment of corporate sustainability.

National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-228292 (URN)10.1016/j.oneear.2024.01.014 (DOI)001187967500001 ()2-s2.0-85185220331 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2024-04-11 Created: 2024-04-11 Last updated: 2024-04-25Bibliographically approved
4. Aggravation Risk: A tool to capture multiple pathways of corporate sustainability risk
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Aggravation Risk: A tool to capture multiple pathways of corporate sustainability risk
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

There is increasing awareness that companies are not only impacting the environment but also dependent upon it for resources and services, on so-called natural capital. The awareness of this dependency has spurred the development of the concept of nature-related financial risk, as a part of corporate sustainability risk assessment. Nature-related (financial) risk is risk to financiers and corporations through impacts on the natural capital upon which their operations depend. The early developments in this field are promising, however we argue that there are two knowledge gaps which current conceptualisations and assessment tools still miss. The first gap is the lack of acknowledgement that it is company practises themselves, through their impact on the environment, that create risks. Risk is therefore not only something that is created by the environment or other actors, it can also be self-created. The second gap is acknowledging and capturing the long-term risk to natural resources and the ability of ecosystems to continue to create natural capital. This longer-term and wider ecosystem perspective on risk is currently not captured by the focus on short-term financial risk in the existing tools. Together these two gaps highlight that risk is  created and affect companies from multiple different pathways. We contribute in this paper to the nascent field of nature-related risk by addressing these two knowledge gaps and developing a tool to capture multiple different pathways of corporate sustainability risk. We use three primary sector industries (fisheries, aquaculture, and agriculture) to operationalise the tool.  

Keywords
Sustainability risk, corporate and financial risk, conceptual model, double materiality, nature-related financial risks
National Category
Environmental Sciences Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-228759 (URN)
Available from: 2024-04-25 Created: 2024-04-25 Last updated: 2024-04-25

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