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E&S Home > Vol. 14, Iss. 2 > Art. 12 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Rethinking Social Contracts: Building Resilience in a Changing Climate

Karen O'Brien, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway
Bronwyn Hayward, School of Political Science and Communication, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba, Canada

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Abstract

Social contracts play an important role in defining the reciprocal rights, obligations, and responsibilities between states and citizens. Climate change is creating new challenges for both states and citizens, inevitably forcing a rethinking of existing and evolving social contracts. In particular, the social arrangements that enhance the well-being and security of both present and future generations are likely to undergo dramatic transformations in response to ecosystem changes, more extreme weather events, and the consequences of social–ecological changes in distant locations. The types of social contracts that evolve in the face of a changing climate will have considerable implications for adaptation policies and processes. We consider how a resilience approach can contribute to new social contracts in the face of uncertainty and change. Examples from Norway, New Zealand, and Canada show how resilience thinking provides a new way of looking at social contracts, emphasizing the dynamics, links, and complexity of coupled social–ecological systems. Resilience thinking provides valuable insights on the characteristics of a new social contract, and social contract theory provides some insights on creating resilience and human security in a warming world.

Key words

adaptation; climate change; New Zealand; northern Canada; Norway; resilience; social contracts.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087