Social Tipping Processes for Sustainability: An Analytical Framework

24 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2020

See all articles by Ricarda Winkelmann

Ricarda Winkelmann

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

E. Keith Smith

ETH Zürich

Manjana Milkoreit

Purdue University

Christina Eder

GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Jobst Heitzig

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Alexia Katsanidou

GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Marc Wiedermann

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Nico Wunderling

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK)

Timothy M. Lenton

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Date Written: October 9, 2020

Abstract

Societal transformations are necessary to address critical global challenges, such as mitigation of anthropogenic climate change and reaching UN sustainable development goals. Recently, social tipping processes have received increased attention, as they present a form of social change whereby a small change can shift a sensitive social system into a qualitatively different state due to strongly self-amplifying (mathematically positive) feedback mechanisms. Social tipping processes have been suggested as key drivers of sustainability transitions emerging in the fields of technological and energy systems, political mobilization, financial markets and sociocultural norms and behaviors.

Drawing from expert elicitation and comprehensive literature review, we develop a framework to identify and characterize social tipping processes critical to facilitating rapid social transformations. We find that social tipping processes are distinguishable from those of already more widely studied climate and ecological tipping dynamics. In particular, we identify human agency, social-institutional network structures, different spatial and temporal scales and increased complexity as key distinctive features underlying social tipping processes. Building on these characteristics, we propose a formal definition for social tipping processes and filtering criteria for those processes that could be decisive for future trajectories to global sustainability in the Anthropocene. We illustrate this definition with the European political system as an example of potential social tipping processes, highlighting the potential role of the FridaysForFuture movement.

Accordingly, this analytical framework for social tipping processes can be utilized to illuminate mechanisms for necessary transformative climate change mitigation policies and actions.

Keywords: Social tipping dynamics, social change, sustainability, critical states, network structures, FridaysForFuture

JEL Classification: D,O3

Suggested Citation

Winkelmann, Ricarda and Donges, Jonathan F. and Smith, E. Keith and Milkoreit, Manjana and Eder, Christina and Heitzig, Jobst and Katsanidou, Alexia and Wiedermann, Marc and Wunderling, Nico and Lenton, Timothy M., Social Tipping Processes for Sustainability: An Analytical Framework (October 9, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3708161 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3708161

Ricarda Winkelmann

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

Jonathan F. Donges

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

E. Keith Smith

ETH Zürich ( email )

Zürichbergstrasse 18
8092 Zurich, CH-1015
Switzerland

Manjana Milkoreit

Purdue University ( email )

610 Purdue Mall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
United States

Christina Eder

GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences ( email )

Unter Sachsenhausen 6-8, 50667 Köln
Mannheim, 68159
Germany

Jobst Heitzig (Contact Author)

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegraphenberg A 31
P.O. Box 60 12 03
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14412
Germany
+49 331 288-2692 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/members/heitzig

Alexia Katsanidou

GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences ( email )

Unter Sachsenhausen 6-8, 50667 Köln
Mannheim, 68159
Germany

Marc Wiedermann

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

Nico Wunderling

Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) ( email )

Telegrafenberg 31
Potsdam, Brandenburg 14473
Germany

Timothy M. Lenton

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences ( email )

The Queen's Dr Exeter
Devon, EX4 4QJ
United Kingdom

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