Studies of social-ecological systems (SES) have highlighted key elements including diversity, feedbacks, cross-scale dynamics, non-linearities and resilience in our understanding of the complex interactions between ecosystem services, human well-being and poverty alleviation. This chapter reviews studies on SES, particularly focusing on the conceptual and analytical advances made by projects and publications from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme, to reveal often hidden patterns in trade-offs, power asymmetries, global and regional drivers, and historic and threshold effects, which were not previously obvious in the poverty contexts being studied. ESPA studies highlight the value of a wide diversity of interdisciplinary modelling approaches, teamed with concerted efforts to collect fit-for-purpose and long-term social, ecological and social-ecological data, as critical to the detection and avoidance of undesirable future trajectories and known or suspected thresholds. The Sustainable Development Goals, together with learning from the ESPA programme, provide a fertile ground to recognise and govern the complex social-ecological dynamics and feedbacks, the cross-scale drivers of trade and financial flows, the power asymmetries at work in the world, and the rapidly approaching tipping points in the climate and earth system.
Read the chapter in Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation.