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Human development in a safe and just operating space: common but differentiated pathways for development

Infographic | 06-07-2017

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a global framework that aims to steer towards a safe and just operating space for society to thrive in. A society in which every person has the resources to meet their individual needs and aspirations, while collectively living within the carrying capacity of the planet. The 17 SDGs address the interrelated challenges of eradicating poverty and improving human well-being and social equity, reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities by changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and promoting sustainable alternatives, and protecting and managing the natural resource base on which people’s wealth and well-being is built.

An integrated approach is vital for minimising trade-offs and capturing synergies between the broad range of objectives it sets out. The challenges differ significantly between countries, depending on their human development level, consumption level, production methods and the resulting environmental footprint.

Achieving the SDGs collectively requires differentiated pathways. Low-income countries should significantly improve human well-being and avoid resource lock-ins, middle-income countries should aim for a relative decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation, and high-income countries should aim for absolute decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation.


Source data

Global Footprint Network (2017). National Footprint Accounts, 2017 Edition. Please contact Global Footprint Network at  for more information. For explanation see http://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/glossary/

Lucas P, Ludwig K, Kok M and Kruitwagen S. (2016). Sustainable Development Goals in the Netherlands – Building Blocks for Environmental Policy for 2030. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague.

Raworth K. (2012). A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can we live within the doughnut? Oxfam, Oxford (UK).

Rockström J, Steffen W, Noone K, Persson Å, Chapin FS, Lambin EF, Lenton TM, Scheffer M, Folke C and Schellnhuber HJ. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461:472–475.

Waage J, Yap C, Bell S, Levy C, Mace G, Pegram T, Unterhalter E, Dasandi N, Hudson D, Kock R, Mayhew S, Marx C and Poole N. (2015). Governing Sustainable Development Goals: interactions, infrastructures, and institutions. In: Waage J and Yap C (eds.). Thinking Beyond Sectors for Sustainable Development. Ubiquity Press, London, pp. 79–88.

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