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Journal Article

Deep reinforcement learning in World-Earth system models to discover sustainable management strategies


Strnad,  Felix
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Barfuss,  Wolfram
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Donges,  Jonathan Friedemann
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Heitzig,  Jobst
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Strnad, F., Barfuss, W., Donges, J. F., Heitzig, J. (2019): Deep reinforcement learning in World-Earth system models to discover sustainable management strategies. - Chaos, 29, 12, 123122.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_23422
Increasingly complex nonlinear World-Earth system models are used for describing the dynamics of the biophysical Earth system and the socioeconomic and sociocultural World of human societies and their interactions. Identifying pathways toward a sustainable future in these models for informing policymakers and the wider public, e.g., pathways leading to robust mitigation of dangerous anthropogenic climate change, is a challenging and widely investigated task in the field of climate research and broader Earth system science. This problem is particularly difficult when constraints on avoiding transgressions of planetary boundaries and social foundations need to be taken into account. In this work, we propose to combine recently developed machine learning techniques, namely, deep reinforcement learning (DRL), with classical analysis of trajectories in the World-Earth system. Based on the concept of the agent-environment interface, we develop an agent that is generally able to act and learn in variable manageable environment models of the Earth system. We demonstrate the potential of our framework by applying DRL algorithms to two stylized World-Earth system models. Conceptually, we explore thereby the feasibility of finding novel global governance policies leading into a safe and just operating space constrained by certain planetary and socioeconomic boundaries. The artificially intelligent agent learns that the timing of a specific mix of taxing carbon emissions and subsidies on renewables is of crucial relevance for finding World-Earth system trajectories that are sustainable in the long term. We propose a framework for using deep reinforcement learning (DRL) as an approach to extend the field of Earth system analysis by a new method. We build our framework upon the agent-environment interface concept. The agent can apply management options to models of the Earth system as the environment of interest and learn by rewards provided by the environment. We train our agent with a deep Q-neural network extended by current state-of-the-art algorithms. We find that the agent is able to learn novel, previously undiscovered policies that navigate the system into sustainable regions in two exemplary conceptual models of the World-Earth system.