Anantha Kumar Duraiappah

Understanding the human dimensions of global environmental change

Anantha Kumar Duraiappah
UNU-IHDP, Germany
Day 2, 17:10-18:00

In the past, much of the work in addressing the coupled socioeconomic-ecological systems has concentrated on understanding the causes of declines in natural systems such as biodiversity loss and ecosystem services change, and the subsequent impacts these changes can have on human well-being. Many of the impact studies, including the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), have focused on estimating the economic costs of these changes while ignoring the social costs indicating the complexity to compute these non-monetary values. Similarly, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment paid attention to the direct drivers of change such as over-exploitation, carbon emissions, invasive species, land use change and pollution, but made no attempt to carry out an assessment of the underlying indirect drivers. The same can be said for the recently completed global biodiversity outlook.

As a consequence, there is little understanding of how particular human behaviors are generated. For example, are non-sustainable approaches inherent in our modes of subsistence and in the technologies we use? Are these approaches generated by particular socioeconomic institutions, by unregulated selfish behavior, or by “bad actors”? Or do our world views, beliefs, and values lead us to make choices that result in unsustainable ways of life?

In order to generate solid, science-based policy-relevant findings, it is essential to integrate social sciences approaches into the process from the very beginning of couple systems research. What would this mean? Figure 1 shows a schematic of the coupled social and natural system, with emphasis on the various components of the social system. We call this the “unpacking of the social sciences”. Some of the linkages (shown with solid arrows) are fairly well understood, while others (shown with dotted arrows) have not been explored in as much detail. More importantly, there has been hardly any work within the context of biodiversity and ecosystems services changes on the inter-linkages among the three components and the impacts these might have on the natural systems. A better understanding of these relationships will provide insights into how feedback from changes in the natural system might cause changes in the social nexus.


Anantha Kumar Duraiappah

Prof. Anantha Duraiappah is the Executive Director of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) in Bonn, Germany. Prof. Duraiappah is an experienced environmental-development economist, whose work largely focuses on the equity of access and use of ecosystem services. In his previous post as Chief of the Ecosystem Services and Economics Unit of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) he helped to initiate the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and has since then played a pivotal role in its recent approval. He additionally serves on the scientific committee of DIVERSITAS one of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) partners. He has authored two books on environment and international aid and development, as well as articles in several internationally recognized journals. Prof. Duraiappah continues to successfully incorporate his expertise in science-policy interaction, economics, development and ecosystem services into his work at IHDP.