The Planetary Boundaries are a set of nine bio-physical limits of the Earth system that should be respected in order to maintain conditions favourable to further human development.

The Planetary Boundary framework has been proposed by (Rockström et al., 2009) in 2009 and updated in 2015 by (Steffen et al., 2015). The authors suggest that crossing the suggested limits could lead to a drastic change in human societies by disrupting some of the ecological bases underlying the current socio-economic system (Dao et al. 2015).

The most known global limit is Climate Change but other global limits have been identified.

Ten boundaries have been initially identified (Rockström et al., 2009): Ocean Acidification, Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, Nitrogen and Phosphorus Losses, Atmospheric Aerosol Loading, Freshwater Use, Land Cover Anthropisation, Biodiversity Loss and Chemical Pollution (names are not original names but the names used in our methodological report and on this website).

In their 2015 article, the authors identify that 3 of the limits (Biodiversity Loss, Nitrogen and Phosphorus Losses) have already been crossed, 2 are close to be crossed (Climate Change, Land Cover Anthropisation) and 3 are not crossed (Ocean Acidification, Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, Freshwater Use). 2 limits cannot be computed yet (Atmospheric Aerosol Loading, Chemical Pollution): we thus assume that they are not been crossed since there is no scientific evidence about these potential risks.

Names and indicators used here differ from the original publication by (Rockström et al., 2009) and (Steffen et al., 2015) because we focus on limits in terms of releases and use of resources by human activities.

An environmental aspect can be measured in different ways. Climate Change can thus be estimated with indicators representing the actual changes (average temperature), the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere or the releases of carbon, e.g. CO2 emissions, by human activities.

Since we here compare country limits with country footprints, purely bio-physical indicators (as selected by Rockström) are not adequate. The selected indicators allow for the computation of yearly footprints, i.e. the impacts of human activities with a clear linking to the underlying bio-physical properties.

As a result, while some limits are not crossed from a bio-physical perpective (for Rockström et al., 2009), i.e. Climate Change, the current yearly level of human activities is overshooting its possible long term yearly level in our approach: action should be taken now, not when the bio-physical limit will be effectively reached.

References
  • Dao Hy, Friot Damien, Peduzzi Pascal, Bruno Chatenoux, Andrea De Bono, Stefan Schwarzer (2015), Environmental limits and Swiss footprints based on Planetary Boundaries, UNEP/GRID-Geneva & University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland. Go to report
  • Rockström J., Steffen W., Noone K., Persson Å., Chapin F. S., Lambin E. F., Lenton T. M., Scheffer M., Folke C., Schellnhuber H. J., Nykvist B., de Wit C. A., Hughes T., van der Leeuw S., Rodhe H., Sörlin S., Snyder P. K., Costanza R., Svedin U., Falkenmark M., et al. (2009) A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461: 472–475
  • Steffen W., Richardson K., Rockström J., Cornell S. E., Fetzer I., Bennett E. M., Biggs R., Carpenter S. R., Vries W. de, Wit C. A. de, Folke C., Gerten D., Heinke J., Mace G. M., Persson L. M., Ramanathan V., Reyers B. & Sörlin S. (2015) Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347: 1259855


  • Climate Change

    Climate Change

    Objective
    To avoid regional modifications at global scale including, among others: climate disruptions; reduction of land glaciers mass and related threat to water supply; complete loss of arctic sea ice, and weakening of carbon sinks; increased impacts from extreme events; changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns; shift in biodiversity and agriculture, as well as sea level rise and related coastal erosion.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    Atmospheric CO2 concentration (ppm); Energy imbalance at Earth’s surface (W/m2).
    Indicator used here
    The remaining cumulative GHG emissions (including land cover changes) for a 50% chance to stay below a 2°C increase by 2100 compared with pre- industrial level.
    A global issue?
    Climate Change is a global issue since GHG emissions are accumulating in the atmosphere whatever their location of origin.
  • Ocean Acidification

    Ocean Acidification

    Objective
    To avoid the “conversion of coral reefs to algal-dominated systems, the regional elimination of some aragonite - and high-magnesium calcite - forming marine biota” (Rockström et al., 2009), as well as the negative effect on marine carbon sink.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    Carbonate ion concentration, average global surface ocean saturation state with respect to aragonite (Ωarag).
    Indicator used here
    The remaining cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activities to maintain an acceptable calcium carbonate saturation state Ω.
    A global issue?
    Ocean Acidification is caused by CO2 emissions, which are also the main cause of Climate Change. Ocean Acidification is a global issue since CO2 emissions are accumulating in the oceans whatever their location of origin. Its effects are also global, albeit with regional variations.
  • Nitrogen Losses

    Nitrogen Losses

    Objective
    To reduce the impacts of reactive nitrogen losses to the environment leading to eutrophication and acidification of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, to the loss of biodiversity, to climate change, and to the formation of high ozone concentrations in the lower atmosphere.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    amount of N2 removed from atmosphere for human use (Mt N/yr).
    Indicator used here
    Agricultural N losses from N-fertilisers and manure.
    A global issue?
    Nitrogen and phosphorus are usually considered regional rather than global issues since effects occur at a local or regional scale. A global perspective can however be adopted if nitrogen and phosphorus losses to the environment affect the earth system. Due to the spatial variability of the impacts, the existence of a global threshold is however difficult to prove with certainty. The Nitrogen and Phosphorus Losses Planetary Boundary is thus conceptually conceived as an aggregation of regional thresholds.
  • Phosphorus Losses

    Phosphorus Losses

    Objective
    To avoid a major oceanic anoxic event, with impacts on marine ecosystems. Phosphorus (P) inflow to the oceans has been suggested as the key driver behind global- scale ocean anoxic events, potentially explaining past mass extinctions of marine life.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    Inflow of phosphorus to ocean, increase compared to natural background weathering.
    Indicator used here
    The application of P-fertilisers and manure.
    A global issue?
    Nitrogen and phosphorus are usually considered regional rather than global issues since effects occur at a local or regional scale. A global perspective can however be adopted if nitrogen and phosphorus losses to the environment affect the earth system. Due to the spatial variability of the impacts, the existence of a global threshold is however difficult to prove with certainty. The Nitrogen and Phosphorus Losses Planetary Boundary is thus conceptually conceived as an aggregation of regional thresholds.
  • Land Cover Anthropisation

    Land Cover Anthropisation

    Objective
    To avoid irreversible and widespread conversion of biomes (such as tropical forests) to undesired states by limiting the expansion of anthropised areas. Anthropisation of land (through cultivation and sealing) acts as a slow variable affecting several environmental aspects such as soil, landscape, water, biodiversity and climate.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    Percentage of global land cover converted to cropland.
    Indicator used here
    The surface of anthropised land, i.e. agricultural and urbanised (sealed) land, as percentage of ice-free land (water bodies excluded).
    A global issue?
    Land cover is usually considered a regional issue rather than a global issue since changes occur at a local or regional scale. A global perspective can however be adopted when considering how land cover changes affect the earth system, in particular through their impacts on climate change as well as on global biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity Loss

    Biodiversity Loss

    Objective
    To avoid a level of biodiversity loss that would lead to irreversible and widespread undesired states of ecosystems. Biodiversity acts as a slow variable affecting the resilience of ecosystems, hence the services they provide, e.g. carbon storage, pollination or freshwater.
    Control variable (after Rockström et al. 2009)
    Extinction rate, extinctions per million species per year (E/MSY).
    Indicator used here
    The potential damages to biodiversity per land cover types accounting for the level of biodiversity per biome.
    A global issue?
    Biodiversity is usually considered a regional issue rather than a global issue since changes occur at a local or regional scale. A global perspective can however be adopted by considering that evidence for the important role of biodiversity for ecosystem functioning and human well-being is considerable.






Look at the big picture !

Current results represent first estimates of the performances of countries with respect to Planetary Boundaries. Computations are based on international datasets included in world input-output models (WIOD and exiobase 2.0) which we complemented with additional sources and basic assumptions.

The overall perspective is assumed to be correct but errors could exist for specific countries. Results will be improved in the follow-up projects.