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copan – Coevolutionary Pathways – joint flagship of RD1 and RD4

A joint flagship project of PIK's Research Domains "Earth System Analysis" and "Transdisciplinary Concepts and Methods", founded in 2013, dealing with the mid- and long-term coevolution of natural and socio-economic subsystems of the Earth system and its relationship to planetary boundaries.




Follow us on Twitter: @pik_copan

Please see agenda setting paper: J.F. Donges, R. Winkelmann, W. Lucht, S.E. Cornell, J.G. Dyke, J. Rockström, J. Heitzig, and H.J. Schellnhuber, Closing the loop: reconnecting human dynamics to Earth system analysis, The Anthropocene Review 4(2), 151-157 (2017)

We study the main linear and nonlinear feedbacks and alternative stable attractors in the mid- and long-term coevolution of natural and socio-economic subsystems of the Earth system like the great acceleration, great transformations, phase transitions between metabolic states, or societal collapses), natural and socio-economic planetary boundaries, and sustainable management pathways staying within these boundaries. We apply a multi-level and diversified approach combining conceptual models of equal simplicity in both natural and socio-economic dimensions, both agent-based and game-theoretic models of bounded rational economic and political agents, and adaptive network-of-network modESA Pathways after HJSels of their interaction (like the bottom-up formation of international climate protection coalitions), forming a modular and flexible model portfolio. We aim at identifying emergent behaviour, scenarios, risks, and suitable management options and rules such as sustainability paradigms, collaborating closely with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and other members of the Earth League via the Planetary Boundaries Research Network (



Coevolution diagram (A: anthroposphere, N: ecosphere) displaying the pathways emerging from an initial condition P0 (adapted from Schellnhuber, Nature 402, 1999).



COPAN is being developed on three pillars of research: data analysis, conceptual modelling, and theory building. The three research strands inform each other and, hence, co-evolve. Advanced methods of statistical data analysis and machine learning are used to detect patterns and significant processes in global socio-ecological data sets from heterogeneous sources capturing historical dynamics across scales. These findings inform the construction of conceptual models of coevolutionary dynamics and serve as a ground truth for model validation. Finally, theoretical insights derived from model experiments feed into refining data analysis methodology as well as help to reframe and focus our model development.

Reading list

In this reading list we collect literature that copan team members found interesting to read or suggest reading. Some are inspiring, others provoke criticism, but all are related to what we attempt in some way.


About the name and logo

Copán is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization in Honduras whose societal collapse had to do with overpopulation and resource overuse.

The two parts of our project logo are derived from its Mayan name glyph shown here.

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