A modeling framework for World-Earth system resilience: exploring social inequality and Earth system tipping points

John M. Anderies, Wolfram Barfuss, Jonathan F. Donges, Ingo Fetzer, Jobst Heitzig, Johan Rockström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The Anthropocene is characterized by the strengthening of planetary-scale interactions between the biophysical Earth system (ES) and human societies. This increasing social-ecological entanglement poses new challenges for studying possible future World-Earth system (WES) trajectories and World-Earth resilience defined as the capacity of the system to absorb and regenerate from anthropogenic stresses such as greenhouse gas emissions and land-use changes. The WES is currently in a non-equilibrium transitional regime of the early Anthropocene with arguably no plausible possibilities of remaining in Holocene-like conditions while sheltering up to 10 billion humans without risk of undermining the resilience of the ES. We develop a framework within which to conceptualize World-Earth resilience to examine this risk. Because conventional ball-and-cup type notions of resilience are hampered by the rapid and open-ended social, cultural, economic and technological evolution of human societies, we focus on the notion of ‘pathway resilience’, i.e. the relative number of paths that allow the WES to move from the currently occupied transitional states towards a safe and just operating space in the Anthropocene. We formalize this conceptualization mathematically and provide a foundation to explore how interactions between ES resilience (biophysical processes) and World system (WS) resilience (social processes) impact pathway resilience. Our analysis shows the critical importance of building ES resilience to reach a safe and just operating space. We also illustrate the importance of WS dynamics by showing how perceptions of fairness coupled with regional inequality affects pathway resilience. The framework provides a starting point for the analysis of World-Earth resilience that can be extended to more complex model settings as well as the development of quantitative planetary-scale resilience indicators to guide sustainable development in a stabilized ES.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number095001
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • World-Earth system
  • inequality
  • modeling
  • pathway diversity
  • resilience
  • tipping elements
  • transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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