Setting up a resilience monitoring system would not provide a single indicator showing resilience, but lower and upper boundaries around possible thresholds could be estimated and continuously refined.
For resilience policy, one of the key challenges is the lack of methodology to measure resilience. Unfortunately, this problem may never be solved in the classical sense. As for climate change, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions offer a straightforward indicator; furthermore, for economic challenges highly relevant and comparable indicators also exist. But as to resilience, no indicator fits all systems.
One reason is that ecosystems are highly diverse. Resilience in a coral reef, a pasture or a forest can be very different, and while there are shared characteristics in the underlying dynamics, there is no single indicator that shows the resilience of all systems — maybe there isn’t even an indicator that can be used meaningfully in all types of ecosystems.
The second reason is that, while resilience can be described by the theoretical distance from a threshold, it has been shown that thresholds cannot be located accurately without crossing them. In specific systems, if the right data collection processes are in place, resilience to shocks and crossing thresholds can be detected, but these findings cannot be generalized — results may only qualitatively inform managers in similar social-ecological systems.
At the same time, from a more practical policy perspective, if we only focus on agroecosystems and a limited number of very common shocks, resilience monitoring seems to be feasible. In resilience literature, “resilience of what to what for whom” is the general approach to framing specific problems of resilience. Here, if we aim to find indicators to describe the resilience of European farmland to the most common threats of climate change for European farmers and markets, the picture becomes much clearer. Soil moisture, crop yield, price fluctuations, inputs, climate, and extreme weather events are all key aspects that can be monitored at scale — many of them even with remote sensing. Calibrating an early warning system would still require considerable research effort; yet, this task seems doable and would be extremely useful for EU agriculture policy in general and to farmers in particular.
Setting up a resilience monitoring system would not provide a single indicator showing resilience, but lower and upper boundaries around possible thresholds could be estimated and continuously refined. The system would show which areas are most vulnerable and where investment in resilience would be needed most.
Still, this monitoring system would not solve all problems. Access to markets, living standards of farmers, logistics, local social issues, and politics would still be highly influential factors in shaping farming systems’ future, but monitoring the most important control variables of agroecosystems and distribution of subsidies based on the results would be still a significant step towards more resilient agriculture in Europe.