Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems (EM) focuses on the development of integrative models of different complexity to better understand complex feedbacks in human-natural systems.

Over the next decade, IIASA research will address itself to transformational changes towards sustainable social-economic-environmental systems. To underpin this research with methodological advances, the Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group (EM) focuses on three modeling areas:

  1. Socioeconomic complexity: Micro-level detailed models that account for socioeconomic complexity, for instance, models with explicit representation of individual behaviors and their interactions that allow studying distributional impacts at different spatial and temporal scales; and models that realistically represent financial transactions, trade flows, and supply chains linked to biophysical sub-models.
  2. Integrative Earth systems models: Intermediate complexity models of Earth systems; evolutionary dynamics of Earth’s ecosystems; and exploratory modeling of linkages between socioeconomic and Earth systems.
  3. Macro-level systems models: Stylized models to address a multitude of challenges and problems related to the transformation to sustainability.

These models are complemented and supported by the area of:

  • Model processing and analysis: Multiple equilibria, regime shifts, tipping points, model sensitivity, robust decision making, optimal responses, model validation, distributed modeling and decision making, tradeoffs, and adaptive dynamics.

EM deploys a flexible multi-model approach that involves stylized models, intermediate-complexity models, and micro-level detailed simulators. To account for socioeconomic complexity, EM exploits the digital revolution and makes use of the progress in computing capabilities to develop micro-level detailed economic simulators, such as agent-based models that allow studying the economy out of equilibrium, account for heterogeneous agents, and relaxes the assumption of rational expectations.

Intermediate complexity models of Earth systems enable investigating these systems on long timescales or at reduced computational cost and make the inclusion of previously unincorporated earth-systems and feedback effects feasible. Furthermore, EM contributes to the development of methods and models for eco-evolutionary dynamics, in particular the theory of adaptive dynamics and more detailed eco-genetic models to address biodiversity in Earth’s ecosystems.

Stylized models of different processes are developed and used for hypothesis testing and to explore the richness of systems dynamics including, non-linearities, tipping points, etc. Model processing and analysis addresses itself to methods and approaches from the theory of dynamic systems, adaptive dynamics, evolutionary game theory, optimal control theory, stochastic optimization, mathematical statistics, model linkage, and reinforcement learning, among other areas.

Models, tools, datasets

coal powerplant

Emissions-Temperature-Uncertainty Framework (ETU)


Paper plane

Agent-based models to inform economic policies on migration (ABM2Policy)


Systems analysis of patterns of COVID-19 spread in Europe and Russia


Kalle Parvinen profile picture

Kalle Parvinen

Guest Research Scholar (EM, CAT)

Jesús Alejandro Rios Ochoa profile picture

Jesús Alejandro Rios Ochoa

Researcher (EM)

No image available

Artem Baklanov

Research Scholar (EM, AFE)

Shipra Singh profile picture

Shipra Singh

IIASA Postdoctoral Fellow (EM, BEC, CDAT)


Amazon Brazil

27 November 2023

A credible path for Brazil to reach net zero by 2050 depends on nature-based solutions

Without the implementation of nature-based solutions through actions such as halting deforestation and promoting large-scale native vegetation restoration, Brazil would jeopardize its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledges including achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050, according to a new study. The researchers also emphasize that stopping deforestation is the most important mitigation measure Brazil can take towards net zero while preventing biodiversity loss.

22 November 2023

Mind the gap: caution needed when assessing land emissions in the COP28 Global Stocktake

The land use, land use change, and forestry sector plays a strong role in achieving global climate targets, but a gap exists between how scientists and countries account for its emissions. A new study highlights how mitigation benchmarks change when assessing IPCC scenarios from a national inventory perspective, with net-zero timings arriving up to five years earlier and cumulative emissions to net-zero being 15-18% smaller.


11 November 2023

Pursuing the urban utopia

Options Magazine, Winter 2023: As cities draw in more and more people, the challenges and opportunities posed by urbanization are ever-increasing. How can we make sure that the cities of tomorrow will serve both people and the planet?

26 June 2023

Advancing systems analysis for informed and agile decision making

Options Magazine, Summer 2023: Continuing innovation and developing new tools is crucial to effectively address problems, adapt to changing circumstances, and drive progress in an ever-evolving world. To bolster the institute’s analytical toolkit, IIASA is continuously developing new systems models and methods incorporating state-of-the-art technology.
Advanced Systems Analysis