Commission on Ecosystem Management


Commission members established the IUCN CEM Resilience Thematic Group to clarify the concept of resilience with respect to simple and complex systems in operational terms, and to demonstrate the value of tools for resilience-based natural resource stewardship, disaster risk reduction and ecosystem-based adaptation. Group members engage in applied, technical, and case study research, as well as policy, projects, capacity building, and communication.
Green turtle resting on a giant table coral

Thematic Group Leads
Mike Jones and Dorian Fougeres

SC Focal Point: Angela Andrade 

The science of social-ecological systems provides a framework known as "resilience thinking1"  for understanding the processes of ecosystem change that are necessary for adaptation, and long-term sustainability. Within this context resilience is viewed as one of three integrated capacities:

1.    Resilience – the capacity of a system to recover from stress and disturbance while retaining its essential functions, structure, feedbacks and identity;
2.    Adaptability – the capacity of actors (both human and biological) in a system to influence resilience; and 
3.    Transformability – the capacity of actors to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, economic, or social structures make the existing system untenable.  

Resilience, adaptability and transformability all require capacity for social learning about systemic change in response to management intervention, external shocks and change within subsystems at lower and higher levels2.  Resilience thinking is fully consistent with the twelve principles of the Ecosystem Approach3 for equitable, inclusive and holistic management agreed by the international Convention on Biological Diversity4 . The Ecosystem Approach is fundamental to the aims of IUCN and an important foundation for the work of thematic and specialist groups in IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management.

Resilient ecosystems sustain biological diversity and human livelihoods in times of severe and wide-ranging change, and the concepts of “resilience-based ecosystem stewardship5” helps people to enhance the resilience of the ecosystems within which they live, and upon which their livelihoods and wellbeing depend.  The Commission on Ecosystem Management’s 2017-2020 Mandate sets forth a vision of healthy, resilient ecosystems.  This vision binds together diverse IUCN work areas such as species conservation, ecosystem restoration, governance including equity and rights, climate change adaptation, food and water security, and disaster risk reduction.

IUCN uses resilience of social-ecological systems as a foundational concept to design and implement conservation efforts that are effective and durable in the face of complex and uncertain interactions between people and nature.

The mission of the RTG is to strengthen the application of the concept of “resilience in complex adaptive social-ecological systems” by IUCN programmes, commissions, and members, and the people and communities with whom they work.

Key Audiences
Our main audiences are people who are working with, implementing, and developing the theory and practice of resilience of complex systems, in field and policy settings.

  • Commission on Ecosystem Management, including its specialist and thematic groups, and its task forces
  • IUCN Commission on Education & Communication (CEC); Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP); Species Survival Commission (SSC); World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL); and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)
  • IUCN member states and organizations
  • Additional global, regional, and national decision-makers and policy bodies
  • Additional scientific communities
  • IUCN programme staff

In the 2017-2020 quadrennium, the RTG pursues its mission through the following goals.  The corresponding activity list describes the specific ways through which RTG members operationalize the goal.  A brief summary of activities follows each goal below; the activity sheet (see Statement of Work posted on this page) should be consulted for details. 

Ensure a common yet widely-applicable understanding of resilience of social-ecological systems as a concept across IUCN programmes, commissions, and members. 

  • Activities include surveying RTG members about their needs and contributions; and developing information sheets, informational graphics, and briefing papers.

Build the capacity of IUCN to apply resilience science to its work.

  • Activities include facilitating information exchange within IUCN; providing input into technical or policy documents, including partnerships with specific groups and projects; and preparing a handbook and case studies.

Both within and outside IUCN, raise the visibility and influence of CEM’s work that incorporates resilience.

  • Activities include delivering trainings in-person and online; hosting networking events; publishing in scholarly journals; and publishing a blog.

Increase the ability of the RTG to function as a social learning network.

  • Activities include updating the RTG’s statement of work and activity list; and fundraising.

Structure and Responsibilities
The CEM Resilience Thematic Group consists of three parts:  a core group, members, and liaisons.

  • The Core Group consists of the RTG Chair and a small group of RTG members who have volunteered to spend extra time sharing the work and providing leadership for the RTG, and in turn are designated by the RTG Chair. 
  • The members consist of scientists and practitioners from diverse professions and disciplines who employ resilience in their work, or have an interest in resilience.
  • Liaisons consist of individuals who are members of other CEM thematic groups or task forces, or other IUCN commissions, and volunteer to serve as a conduit between the RTG and another specific group.

With nearly 200 members, the Resilience Thematic Group (RTG) constitutes one of the most well-represented fields within CEM.  

  • Members work primarily at universities, including business and law schools, as well as research institutes and development organizations.  Many others members come from not-for-profit organizations, public agencies, foundations and charities, and environmental consultancies, with a few formally representing IUCN and the United Nations.  
  • Geographically, the RTG has greatest representation from Africa, followed by Asia, Europe, and North American, with smaller contingents from South America, Oceania, and Australia.  
  • Professionally, the largest number of members have expertise in biodiversity conservation and ecology, including work the landscape scale, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation, and ecosystem services.  Large numbers of members also specialize in governance and rights, while smaller groups specialize in disaster-risk reduction, indigenous people, nature-based solutions, protected areas, education & training, agro-food systems, and urbanization & cities.
  • Per IUCN’s One Program Approach, the RTG also has cross-representation on other IUCN groups, including Nature-Based Solutions, Natural Capital, and the Red List of Ecosystems.
  • Many members attend periodic RTG gatherings that typically overlap with major international conferences, such as the International Congress for Conservation Biology.  Common endeavors include preparing case studies and briefing papers, holding trainings and networking events, publishing in scholarly journals, and maintaining a practice blog.

  1. Walker, B and Salt, D. 2006. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press
  2. Folke, C., S. R. Carpenter, B. Walker, M. Scheffer, T. Chapin, and J. Rockström. 2010. Resilience thinking: integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15(4): 20. [online] URL:
  3. Jones, M. 2018. Resilience Thinking Perspective on the Ecosystem Approach
  4. CBD, 2004. The Ecosystems Approach. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal
  5. Chapin, F. S., Carpenter, S. R., Kofinas, G. P., Folke, C., Abel, N., Clark, W. C., … Swanson, F. J. (2010). Ecosystem stewardship: sustainability strategies for a rapidly changing planet. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 25(4), 241–9.
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