Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity
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“Human pressure on the Earth System has reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. To continue to live and operate safely, humanity has to stay away from critical ‘hard-wired’ thresholds in Earth’s environment, and respect the nature of planet’s climatic, geophysical, atmospheric and ecological processes,” says lead author Professor
The group of scientists including Hans Joachim Schellnhuber,
The scientists first identified the Earth System processes and potential biophysical thresholds, which, if crossed, could generate unacceptable environmental change for humanity. They then proposed the boundaries that should be respected in order to reduce the risk of crossing these thresholds.
Nine boundaries were identified including climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution. The study suggests that three of these boundaries (climate change, biological diversity and nitrogen input to the biosphere) may already have been transgressed. In addition, it emphasizes that the boundaries are strongly connected – crossing one boundary may seriously threaten the ability to stay within safe levels of the others.
“What we now present is a novel framework through which our scientific understanding of the Earth System can potentially be used more directly in the societal decision making process,” says co-author
The scientists emphasize that the rapid expansion of human activities since the industrial revolution has now generated a global geophysical force equivalent to some of the great forces of nature.
“We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geological era in which our activities are threatening the Earth’s capacity to regulate itself. We are beginning to push the planet out of its current stable Holocene state, the warm period that began about 10,000 years ago and during which agriculture and complex societies, including our own, have developed and flourished,” says co-author Professor
Co-author Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber points out that the climate system has clearly started to drift away from the familiar domain where historic experiences apply. The risk of highly nonlinear changes in our environmental conditions is sharply increasing outside that domain.
“Observations of an incipient climate transition include the rapid retreat of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, melting of almost all mountain glaciers around the world, and an increased rate of sea-level rise in the last 10-15 years,” Professor Schellnhuber says. He is Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The researchers stress that their approach does not offer a complete roadmap for sustainable development, but does provide an important element by identifying critical planetary boundaries.
“Within these boundaries, humanity has the flexibility to choose pathways for our future development and well-being. In essence, we are drawing the first – albeit very preliminary – map of our planet’s safe operating zones. And beyond the edges of the map, we don’t want to go. Our future research will consider ways in which society can develop within these boundaries – safely, sanely and sustainably,” says co-author Professor
Feature article in Nature,
Full scientific article: “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity”, and video interviews, graphics and further background material: http://www.stockholmresilience.org/planetary-boundaries
- Press release by the Stockholm Resilience Centre at
For interviews and further information, please contact: EUROPE: Johan Rockstrom, phone: +46-73-707-85-47, firstname.lastname@example.org Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, phone: +49-331-288-2507, Email: email@example.com Katherine Richardson, phone: +45-35324285, +45-28754285, Email: KARI@science.ku.dk AUSTRALIA: Will Steffen, phone: +61-404-074-593, +61-2-6125-6599, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org US: Jonathan Foley, phone: +1-952-715-9586; Email: email@example.com Press contacts: Stockholm Resilience Centre: Ellika Hermansson Torok/Sturle Hauge Simonsen, phone: +46-73-707-85-47, +46-73-707-85-50, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: Uta Pohlmann/Patrick Eickemeier, phone: +49-331-288-25-07, Email: email@example.com University of Copenhagen: Svend Thaning, phone: +45-35-32-42-81, +45-28-75-42-81, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The Australian National University: Roz Smith, ANU Climate Change Institute, phone: +61-2-6125-6599, +61-2-402-286-325, Email: email@example.com University of Minnesota: Todd Reubold, phone: +1-612-624-6140, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE Stockholm Resilience Centre