Gao, L., Bryan, B.A., 2017. Finding pathways to national-scale land-sector sustainability. Nature 544(7649) 217–222. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v544/n7649/abs/nature21694.html
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets under Agenda 2030 of the United Nations map a coherent global sustainability ambition at a level of detail general enough to garner consensus amongst nations. However, achieving the global agenda will depend heavily on successful national-scale implementation, which requires the development of effective science-driven targets tailored to specific national contexts and supported by strong national governance. Here we assess the feasibility of achieving multiple SDG targets at the national scale for the Australian land-sector. We scaled targets to three levels of ambition and two timeframes, then quantitatively explored the option space for target achievement under 648 plausible future environmental, socio-economic, technological and policy pathways using the Land-Use Trade-Offs (LUTO) integrated land systems model. We show that target achievement is very sensitive to global efforts to abate emissions, domestic land-use policy, productivity growth rate, and land-use change adoption behaviour and capacity constraints. Weaker target-setting ambition resulted in higher achievement but poorer sustainability outcomes. Accelerating land-use dynamics after 2030 changed the targets achieved by 2050, warranting a longer-term view and greater flexibility in sustainability implementation. Simultaneous achievement of multiple targets is rare owing to the complexity of sustainability target implementation and the pervasive trade-offs in resource-constrained land systems. Given that hard choices are needed, the land-sector must first address the essential food/fibre production, biodiversity and land degradation components of sustainability via specific policy pathways. It may also contribute to emissions abatement, water and energy targets by capitalizing on co-benefits. However, achieving targets relevant to the land-sector will also require substantial contributions from other sectors such as clean energy, food systems and water resource management. Nations require globally coordinated, national-scale, comprehensive, integrated, multi-sectoral analyses to support national target-setting that prioritizes efficient and effective sustainability interventions across societies, economies and environments.
McCurdy, A. and W. Travis (2017) Simulated climate adaptation in stormwater systems: evaluating the efficiency of adaptation strategies. Environment Systems and Decisions. Published online: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-017-9631-z
Adaptations in infrastructure may be necessitated by changes in temperature and precipitation patterns to avoid losses and maintain expected levels of service. A roster of adaptation strategies has emerged in the climate change literature, especially with regard to timing: anticipatory, concurrent, or reactive. Significant progress has been made in studying climate change adaptation decision making that incorporates uncertainty, but less work has examined how strategies interact with existing infrastructure characteristics to influence adaptability. We use a virtual testbed of highway drainage crossings configured with a selection of actual culvert emplacements in Colorado, USA, to examine the effect of adaptation strategy and culvert characteristics on cost efficiency and service level under varying rates of climate change. A meta-model approach with multinomial regression is used to compare the value of better climate change predictions with better knowledge of existing crossing characteristics. We find that, for a distributed system of infrastructural units like culverts, knowing more about existing characteristics can improve the efficacy of adaptation strategies more than better projections of climate change. Transportation departments choosing climate adaptation strategies often lack detailed data on culverts, and gathering that data could improve the efficiency of adaptation despite climate uncertainty.
Su H, Dong F, Liu Y, Zou R, and Guo H. 2017. Robustness-Optimality Tradeoff for Watershed Load Reduction Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty. Water Resour Manag:1-14.
Practical and optimal reduction of watershed loads under deep uncertainty requires sufficient search alternatives and direct evaluation of robustness. These requirements contribute to the understanding of the tradeoff between cost and robustness; while they are not well addressed in previous studies. This study thereby (a) uses preconditioning technique in Evolutionary Algorithm to reduce unnecessary search space, which enables a sufficient search; and (b) derives Robustness Index (RI) as a second-tier optimization objective function to achieve refined solutions (solved by GA) that address both robustness and optimality. Uncertainty-based Refined Risk Explicit Linear Interval Programming is used to generate alternatives (solved by Controlled elitist NSGA-II). The robustness calculation error is also quantified. Proposed approach is applied to Lake Dianchi, China. Results demonstrate obvious improvement in robustness after conducting sufficient search and negative robustness-optimality trade-offs, and provides a detailed characteristic of robustness that can serve as references for decision-making.
Robustness index Deep uncertainty Tradeoff Optimality Load reduction
Quinn, J. D., P. M. Reed and K. Keller (2017). “Direct policy search for robust multi-objective management of deeply uncertain socio-ecological tipping points.” Environmental Modelling & Software 92, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2017.02.017: 125-141.
Managing socio-ecological systems is a challenge wrought by competing societal objectives, deep uncertainties, and potentially irreversible tipping points. A classic, didactic example is the shallow lake problem in which a hypothetical town situated on a lake must develop pollution control strategies to maximize its economic benefits while minimizing the probability of the lake crossing a critical phosphorus (P) threshold, above which it irreversibly transitions into a eutrophic state. Here, we explore the use of direct policy search (DPS) to design robust pollution control rules for the town that account for deeply uncertain system characteristics and conflicting objectives. The closed loop control formulation of DPS improves the quality and robustness of key management tradeoffs, while dramatically reducing the computational complexity of solving the multi-objective pollution control problem relative to open loop control strategies. These insights suggest DPS is a promising tool for managing socio-ecological systems with deeply uncertain tipping points.
Trindade, B. C., P. M. Reed, J. D. Herman, H. B. Zeff and G. W. Characklis (2017). “Reducing regional drought vulnerabilities and multi-city robustness conflicts using many-objective optimization under deep uncertainty.” Advances in Water Resources 104, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.advwatres.2017.03.023: 195-209.
Emerging water scarcity concerns in many urban regions are associated with several deeply uncertain factors, including rapid population growth, limited coordination across adjacent municipalities and the increasing risks for sustained regional droughts. Managing these uncertainties will require that regional water utilities identify coordinated, scarcity-mitigating strategies that trigger the appropriate actions needed to avoid water shortages and financial instabilities. This research focuses on the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, seeking to engage the water utilities within Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill in cooperative and robust regional water portfolio planning. Prior analysis of this region through the year 2025 has identified significant regional vulnerabilities to volumetric shortfalls and financial losses. Moreover, efforts to maximize the individual robustness of any of the mentioned utilities also have the potential to strongly degrade the robustness of the others. This research advances a multi-stakeholder Many-Objective Robust Decision Making (MORDM) framework to better account for deeply uncertain factors when identifying cooperative drought management strategies. Our results show that appropriately designing adaptive risk-of-failure action triggers required stressing them with a comprehensive sample of deeply uncertain factors in the computational search phase of MORDM. Search under the new ensemble of states-of-the-world is shown to fundamentally change perceived performance tradeoffs and substantially improve the robustness of individual utilities as well as the overall region to water scarcity. Search under deep uncertainty enhanced the discovery of how cooperative water transfers, financial risk mitigation tools, and coordinated regional demand management must be employed jointly to improve regional robustness and decrease robustness conflicts between the utilities. Insights from this work have general merit for regions where adjacent municipalities can benefit from cooperative regional water portfolio planning.
Hamel, P. and BP Bryant (2017). Uncertainty assessment in ecosystem services analyses: Common challenges and practical responses. Ecosystem Services 24, 1-15. doi:10.1016/j.ecoser.2016.12.008
Abstract: Ecosystem services (ES) analyses are increasingly used to address societal challenges, but too often are not accompanied by uncertainty assessment. This omission limits the validity of their findings and may undermine the ‘science-based’ decisions they inform. We summarize and analyze seven commonly perceived challenges to conducting uncertainty assessment that help explain why it often receives superficial treatment in ES studies. We connect these challenges to solutions in relevant scientific literature and guidance documents. Since ES science is based on a multiplicity of disciplines (e.g. ecology, hydrology, economics, environmental modeling, policy sciences), substantial knowledge already exists to identify, quantify, and communicate uncertainties. The integration of these disciplines for solution-oriented modeling has been the focus of the integrated assessment community for many years, and we argue that many insights and best practices from this field can be directly used to improve ES assessments. We also recognize a number of issues that hinder the adoption of uncertainty assessment as part of standard practice. Our synthesis provides a starting point for ES analysts and other applied modelers looking for further guidance on uncertainty assessment and helps scientists and decision-makers to set reasonable expectations for characterizing the level of confidence associated with an ES assessment.
Readers interested in uncertainty and ES may also find a recent workshop report on “Motivating and Improving Uncertainty Assessment in ES” interesting as well:
Finally, those having or seeking to produce good examples of such assessment are encouraged to submit to a new special issue on the topic, with submissions due September 30, 2017.
Cockerill, K., M. Armstrong, J. Richter, J. Okie. 2017. Environmental Realism: Challenging Solutions. Palgrave MacMillan 145p. ISBN 978-3-319-52824-3.
Abstract from Chapter 1: Why Challenge Solutions?
Labeling a problem ‘environmental’ creates a pervasive belief that science and technology can, should, and will generate solutions for issues ranging from pandemic disease to stream functions to nuclear contamination. These, however, are ‘wicked problems’ that defy simple or long-term solutions, but rather must be continually managed. Further, what are defined in the 21st century as ‘environmental problems’ are often the consequence of perceived ‘solutions’ implemented in a previous era.The perception of these issues as problems is derived, in part, from Enlightenment ideas segregating Homo sapiens from nature and a belief that humans can contain or control biophysical processes. Solutionist thinking and language perpetuates a self-referential problem-solution-problem cycle that begs the question of what constitutes a ‘solution’ and simultaneously elides the reality that human systems and biophysical systems are inseparable.
Shortridge, J., Guikema, S. & Zaitchik, B. (2017) Robust decision making in data scarce contexts: addressing data and model limitations for infrastructure planning under transient climate change. Climatic Change 140: 323. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1845-4
Abstract: In the face of deeply uncertain climate change projections, robust decision frameworks are becoming a popular tool for incorporating climate change uncertainty into water infrastructure planning. These methodologies have the potential to be particularly valuable in developing countries where extensive infrastructure development is still needed and uncertainties can be large. However, many applications of these methodologies have relied on a sophisticated process of climate model downscaling and impact modeling that may be unreliable in data-scarce contexts. In this study, we demonstrate a modified application of the robust decision making (RDM) methodology that is specifically tailored for application in data-scarce situations. This modification includes a novel method for generating transient climate change sequences that account for potential variable dependence but do not rely on detailed GCM projections, and an emphasis on identifying the relative importance of data limitations and uncertainty within an integrated modeling framework. We demonstrate this methodology in the Lake Tana basin in Ethiopia, showing how the approach can highlight the vulnerability of alternative plans across different time scales and identify priorities for research and model refinement. We find that infrastructure performance is particularly sensitive to uncertainty in streamflow model accuracy, irrigation efficiency, and evaporation rates, suggesting that additional research in these areas could provide valuable insights for long-term infrastructure planning. This work demonstrates how tailored application of robust decision frameworks using simple modeling approaches can provide decision support in data-scarce regions where more complex modeling and analysis may be impractical.
Gong, Min , Robert Lempert, Andrew M Parker, Lauren A. Mayer, Jordan Fischbach, Matthew Sisco, Zhamin Mao, David H. Krantz, and Howard Kunreuther. “Testing the Scenario Hypothesis: An Experimental Comparison of Scenarios and Forecasts for Decision Support in a Complex Decision Environment.” Environmental Modeling and Software 91 (2017): 135-55.
Decision support tools are known to influence and facilitate decisionmaking through the thoughtful construction of the decision environment. However, little research has empirically evaluated the effects of using scenarios and forecasts. In this research, we asked participants to recommend a fisheries management strategy that achieved multiple objectives in the face of significant uncertainty. A decision support tool with one of two conditions—Scenario or Forecast—encouraged participants to explore a large set of diversified decision options. We found that participants in the two conditions explored the options similarly, but chose differently. Participants in the Scenario Condition chose the strategies that performed well over the full range of uncertainties (robust strategies) significantly more frequently than did those in the Forecast Condition. This difference seems largely to be because participants in the Scenario Condition paid increased attention to worst-case futures. The results offer lessons for designing decision support tools.
Lahtinen, T. J., J. H. A. Guillaume, and R. P. Hämäläinen (2017), Why pay attention to paths in the practice of environmental modelling?, Environmental Modelling and Software, 92, 74–81, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2017.02.019
Taking the ‘path perspective’ helps to understand and improve the practice of environmental modelling and decision making. A path is the sequence of steps taken in a modelling project. The problem solving team faces several forks where alternative choices can be made. These choices determine the path, together with the impact of uncertainties and exogenous effects. This paper discusses phenomena that influence the problem solvers’ choices at the forks. Situations are described where it can be desirable to re-direct the path or backtrack on it. Phenomena are identified that can cause the modelling project to get stuck on a poor path. The concept of a path draws attention to the interplay of behavioral phenomena and the sequential nature of modelling processes. This helps understand the overall effect of the behavioral phenomena. A path checklist is developed to help practitioners detect forks and reflect on the path of the modelling project.