Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries: Background Research Paper



Now, however, the planet is crowded with 7.2 billion of us demanding primary resources, and the Earth’s seemingly vast limits are being hit and hit hard. As a result global sustainability has become a prerequisite for human development at all scales, from the local community to nations and the world economy.

Various concepts exist to describe global environmental constraints: “carrying capacity”, “sustainable consumption and production”, “guardrails”, “tipping points”, “footprints”, “safe operating space” or “planetary boundaries”. We will employ the concept of planetary boundaries (Rockström et al 2009a), which provides a powerful description of the global “adding-up” constraints across key dimensions.

The concept of planetary boundaries has been developed to outline a safe operating space for humanity that carries a low likelihood of harming the life support systems on Earth to such an extent that they no longer are able to support economic growth and human development. As this paper explains, planetary boundaries do not place a cap on human development. Instead they provide a safe space for innovation, growth and development in the pursuit of human prosperity in an increasingly populated and wealthy world.


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