From Planetary Boundaries to national fair shares of the global safe operating space — How can the scales be bridged?

20-07-2016 | Publication

The planetary boundaries’ concept proposes quantitative precautionary boundaries for nine critical earth-system processes, including climate and biodiversity. Crossing the boundaries could generate abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. As decisions regarding environmental management and resource use are not made at the planetary scale, they need to be translated into and aligned with targets at lower decision-making levels.

In this paper, we present a framework for deriving national-level fair shares of Earth’s safe operating space and discuss methods and tools to do so. The framework can assist policymakers in translating planetary boundaries into national policy targets.

Biophysical, socio-economic and ethical dimensions

In translating the planetary boundaries, their biophysical, socio-economic, and ethical dimensions should be treated distinctly and in this order. The biophysical dimension deals with the geographical scales of planetary boundary processes (e.g. the global level for climate change and watershed level for water scarcity) and their interactions. The socio-economic dimension addresses the sub-global relationships between production and consumption through international trade, pointing  at environmental impacts outside national borders. The ethical dimension takes into account the differences between countries’ rights, abilities, and responsibilities with respect to resource use and environmental impacts.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are a globally agreed framework of goals and targets, together addressing a broad range of interrelated challenges for sustainable human development. All nine planetary boundaries are implicitly addressed by the SDGs. Therefore, the framework can also guide policymakers in translating these global SDG targets into national ambitions and policies by defining national fair shares of the global challenges.

open access article