Bridging the Gap Between Human and Natural Sciences through the Human-Environment Systems Approach

  • 2018/07/04     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Cornel Dick/UNU-FLORES

    By Defne Altiok, Communications and Advocacy

    Our planet is about to reach its limits. Scientists increasingly point out that we are entering an era where humans replace natural forces as the primary drivers of planetary change, along with the anthropogenic impact we have on environmental resources. Human pressure threatens the ecological health and well-being since demographic, urbanisation, and climate trends have a significant effect on the availability of the scarce global material resources (IRP 2017).

    While global problems increasingly get complex and interwoven, isolated governance practices and narrowly designed policies fall short of addressing environmental challenges. Therefore, the need to design responses that respond to environmental challenges based on a comprehension of the interlinked relationships between humankind and its environment becomes evident now more than ever. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a comprehensive framework to address these challenges.

    As part of the Nexus Seminar Series on 18 June 2018 at TU Dresden, Prof. Jochen Schanze, Chair of Environmental Development and Risk Management at TU Dresden, held the seminar “Assessing and Managing Human-Environment Systems: Concepts, Methods, and Outcomes” and elaborated on how to better analyse, evaluate, intervene, manage, and govern human-environment interrelations.

    Image: Cornel Dick/UNU-FLORES

    In his talk, Prof. Schanze pointed out the major gap between goals and achievements in the process of regulating human-environment interrelations. He stated that governance systems are usually unaware of and/or act independently of the long-term implications of un(der)controlled development, which shows its effects in the form of environmental crises, such as alarming rates of land consumption, biodiversity loss, and global warming. Therefore, natural and social sciences have to collaborate to analyse key processes, global impacts, and risks associated with the management and governance of environmental resources.

    Acknowledging the differences and interrelations between the biophysical and immaterial domains, Prof. Schanze presented human-environment systems (HES) as a theoretical approach to tackle multi-actor comprehensiveness, interconnectedness, complexity, construction, and resilience of subsystems. The proposed HES approach seeks to bridge the gap between human and natural sciences as well as particular systems collaboration. The outcomes of such an exercise which might be termed “systdisciplinary’’ approach, can then inform policymaking for all sectors.

    The seminar culminated in a Q&A session, during which it was highlighted that the Nexus Approach may play a crucial role that key processes are represented in the interface between HES and immaterial domains. In particular, the Nexus Approach integrates management and governance across scales and highlights interrelations between sectors and natural resources.


    International Resource Panel (IRP). 2017. Assessing Global Resource Use: A systems approach to resource efficiency and pollution reduction. Nairobi: UN Environment.