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Sustainability Science

SSS UN Day Blog- Professor John Dearing

Published: 22 October 2012
Professor John Dearing

This is the latest blog in our series of speaker and project bios for the Sustainability Science at Southampton UN World Development Information Day Seminar (24 October, 2012)

Blog Speaker profile- SSS UN World Development & Information Day

Professor John Dearing

Project title: Safe operating spaces for regional rural development: a new conceptual tool for evaluating complex socio-ecological system dynamics

1. Tell us a bit about you and your project team:

I'm a physical geographer trying to improve sustainable management practises in mainly agricultural landscapes.  I'm particularly keen to find ways of using concepts in complexity science, like tipping points, in real world situations.  My latest efforts have focused on using biological and physical analyses of lake sediment cores to give long records of ecosystem services and processes in the catchments around the lake.  Long time series give vital clues about trends, variability and distance from tipping points in key elements of a landscape, like water quality or soil erosion.

2. Tell us a bit about your project:

This project is developing the concept of 'safe operating spaces' for development to prevent misguided actions causing loss or damage to ecosystem services which undermine long-term sustainability. Results will be drawn from an ongoing ESPA PFG project in the lower Yangtze basin and another project in Yunnan Province that combine conventional socio-economic records with reconstructed data for ecosystem services to show how close modern regions are to tipping points.

3. Describe the impact of your project in terms of providing solutions to global development challenges: The ESPA ‘safe operating spaces' project is aimed at providing a conceptual tool for landscape managers at regional scales. It's a tool that will ultimately tell a manager whether a current land use practise, like the level of fertilizer application, is sustainable or not over a specified timescale. The tool draws on a number of approaches that can identify the tipping points or undesirable conditions within a landscape that effectively define the boundaries of a ‘safe operating space' - so that managers can be confident with current practices or select alternative options before the boundary is reached.

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