Adapting to a New Economic Reality: responding to Global Challenges with Systems Thinking


  • Harald Ulrik Sverdrup
  • Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir


The world now confronts a number of huge challenges, and these are now on a scale and scope never before seen in history. In earlier times, such challenges have lead to local and regional problems and collapses.  Previously no more than a part of the world was affected, and there was always somewhere else to go. In the Anthropocene the challenges are of planetary scope, there are no escapes and therefore we are forced to think through major changes (Tainter 1988, Rockström et al. 2009, Turner 2012, Sverdrup et al. 2013a). Current economic theory and the operative economic systems, as well as politics and political science, have failed in their handling of long-term economic, environmental and resource challenges, particularly owing to their focus on a limited temporal perspective. This chapter explains the rationale for a new European Commission funded PhD training programme AdaptEconII which aims to develop a new economic framework. This project uses system dynamics to work with the time frames set by natural and human systems and to develop tools and assessments. This paper begins by setting six key global challenges and linking these to questions of appropriate economic frameworks.  The next section addresses the ways in which system dynamics can be used to handle both future predictions and nonlinear causal relationships.  The final section introduces the AdaptEconII project and summarises aims and objectives in relation to these challenges.