Over the last 20 or 30 years, scientists around the world have focused on the understanding of the functioning of the Earth System and human impacts on that system. Earth System dynamics is characterized by critical thresholds and abrupt changes, whose predictability is inherently uncertain. The international scientific community has concluded that the rate of global environmental change is, so far, vastly outpacing our response and, thus, that our current path is unsustainable (ICSU, 2010). An Earth System currently functioning in a non-analogue mode makes it necessary not only to take action to mitigate drivers of dangerous global change and enhance societal resilience, but to change our scientific paradigm moving from the traditional disciplinary paradigm towards an integrative approach. This paradigm should allow on the one hand, developing response strategies to global change, and on the other hand, deepening our knowledge of the functioning of the Earth system and its critical thresholds (ICSU, 2010). Closing gaps between physical and social sciences as well as between scientists, decision-makers and citizens at all scales is crucial in this respect. Thus an interdisciplinary approach is appropriate for climate change studies, which are far too complex to be addressed with a single discipline. In fact, interdisciplinarity covers the space between disciplines and implies a greater degree of integration, sharing research questions formulation, methodology and methods (Miller et al., 2008).
In Chile, there is an emerging community of natural and social scientists studying various aspects of the Earth System in the unique framework defined by the Andes cordillera, the Pacific Ocean, the distinctive inter- annual and decadal variability of atmospheric and oceanic regimes, as well as a fast economic and urban growth, and a society characterized by enormous inequities. This community is small (ca. 50 people), and greatly outnumbered by the many challenges emerging from a sustainable development in a changing climate, and the constrains driven by international political and economical agreements. Thus, there is a need to substantially strengthen the emerging community of natural and social scientists studying various aspects of the Earth System in Chile, as well as to incorporate the required expertise and know how in the Chilean State apparatus and in the private productive sector.
Increasingly, sustainability and environmental control have been key concerns in the public sector, and also in the private sector (CONAMA, 2007). However, our understanding and knowledge of the regional climate system, as well as their interactions and modulation by global trends falls short to provide appropriate, locally relevant mitigation and adaption strategies to face a suite of pressing challenges in the coming decades.
Therefore we propose to adopt a systemic and interdisciplinary approach based on five broad areas of research, in alphabetical order: biogeochemistry (BGC), climate dynamics(CD), ecosystem services (ECO), human dimensions (HD), and modeling and observing systems (MO), that together and interactively should be functional, if worked out in collaboration with stakeholders, in defining sound medium and long term adaptation, and mitigation strategies enhancing social resilience. To ensure interactions among different disciplines and stakeholders (scientists, decision makers, public, etc.) we envision, in addition to providing national perspectives, integrative regional studies at three geopolitical regions of Chile dealing with:
- Scarcity and variability of water resources in Central and Northern Chile, where an improved characterization of the hydrological cycle and climate variability is required for management strategies to satisfy increasing and often conflicting demands.
- Growing urbanization in Central and Southern Chile requiring integrated and intersectoral management in order to maximize control of pollution and climate driver sources.
- Rapid land use changes in Central and Southern Chile leading to sectoral, territorial and cultural conflicts that require the design of adequate landscape arrays to provide multiple market goods and services, as well as ecological restoration for the recovery of ecosystem services and new conflict resolution approaches.
In sum, on the one hand we aim at improving our scientific understanding of climate change system, processes, and impacts along Chile, and, on the other hand at producing assessments, scenarios, and measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change, i.e., strengthening societal resilience. In fact, the concept of resilience provides a way for analyzing how to maintain stability in the face of change. A resilient social-ecological system, which can buffer a great deal of change or disturbance, is synonymous with ecological, economic and social sustainability. Moreover, Abel et al. (2006) and King (1995) advocate that regions and nations should replace sustainability with resilience as the concept underpinning their environmental policy.