Planetary Boundary

Climate Change

Global Status in 2009

Limit per Capita:
39.6 Gigatons of CO2e
11 Gigatons of CO2e
1.6 Tons CO2e
clearly safe    safe    unsafe    clearly unsafe
The objective of setting performance indicators is to deliver a clear message per Planetary Boundary and enable dashboarding. Planetary Boundaries are classified into one of four categories from a categorical scale of performance according to a semi-quantitative process considering:
  • - A quantitative score computed as the ratio of a footprint over a limit.
  • - A qualitative evaluation of the uncertainty of the quantitative results for the limits and footprints. The uncertainties of the results are rather large due to a) the use of global data sets with medium accuracy in comparison with data generally used at country level, and b) the process of setting limits based on expert advices and/or policy decisions.
  • - A qualitative evaluation of the trends (past and future) of the footprint. A rapidly deteriorating situation expresses that the situation is evolving in a matter of years while a slow evolution expresses an evolution in terms of several decades.

Environmental footprint indicators provide a complementary perspective to the territorial indicators. This footprint perspective is also known as life cycle perspective or consumption perspective. Footprints aggregate environmental impacts and/or resource uses along global production-consumption chains (EPA, 2006). By adopting a functional focus rather than a geographical focus, they allow to quantify the environmental impacts induced by the consumption of the inhabitants of a country wherever these impacts occur on Earth. A footprint perspective is particularly relevant for economies relying on external countries for a large part of the production of the consumed goods, i.e. for small, open or service-oriented economies. This perspective is increasingly relevant in our interlinked global economy (Friot, 2009) since a rising part of the impacts on a territory are generated to satisfy consumers in other countries. Some of the environmental impacts occurring for example in Switzerland are generated for the consumption of the inhabitants of other countries (exports) while some of the impacts generated for the consumed goods and services are occurring outside of Switzerland (imports). Footprint indicators show thus the magnitude and location of the environmental impacts induced by a population as well as the reliance on foreign environmental resources. Furthermore they can also be used to quantify the environmental consequences of production and consumption choices in terms of burden shifting among countries. As a result, the consumption-based indicators provide a needed complementary perspective to existing territorial-based indicators. They will however not replace them: both are needed.
The concept of Planetary Boundaries was proposed by Rockström et al. in 2009 (Rockström et al., 2009b). The Planetary Boundaries are a set of physical and biological limits of the global Earth system that should be respected in order not to leave a “Safe Operating Space”, and thereby put the planet’s human-friendly living conditions into peril. The most known limit is Climate Change but others are considered like Ocean Acidification for example. The Planetary Boundaries are the most recent scientific framework to think about global environmental limits.

Score < 1x: India
Score < 2x: Brazil, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Latvia, Romania
Score < 4x: China, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Rest of the World, Slovakia, Turkey
Score < 8x: Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Score < 64x: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, United States of America
Score < 365x: Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg
Countries with a score of 1 are in equilibrium, i.e their footprint is the same size as their limit. Countries with a score larger than 1 are overshooting, i.e. their footprint is exceeding their allocated limit.
The yearly limit for Climate Change is largely overshot and the situation is thus considered unsafe. 83% of the global population is leaving in a country overshooting this limit. This is true for all countries except India.

Considering Climate Change from a footprint (consumption) perspective while accounting for past emissions and for the rights of the future populations provides thus a different picture from what we are used to in the international negociations on Climate Change.

While high-income economies show a much larget overshoot, middle- and low-income economies should also reduce their emissions in order to mitigate Climate Change.
Name (evaluation year)
Climate Change (2009)
What are the objectives of this Planetary Boundary?
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.
Is this a global issue?
Climate Change is a global issue since GHG emissions are accumulating in the atmosphere whatever their location of origin.
What is the selected indicator?
The remaining cumulative GHG emissions (including land cover changes) for a 50% chance to stay below a 2oC increase by 2100 compared with pre- industrial level.
How is the indicator computed?
Equal rights to emit carbon emissions are assumed for all inhabitants of Earth in 1990. These rights, i.e. the global limit, are computed as a budget of remaining carbon emissions to ensure respecting a 2 degrees temperature increase with a 50% chance. To consider past emissions and future rights to emit, a limit is then computed per country for later years. An equivalent right to emit is assumed between the inhabitants of a country until 2100, where emissions are assumed to be 0.

A detailed description of the logic and the computation is available in our methodological report.
Data sources, and resulting limits and footprints, differ however from the report since we have here used global and more recent databases.
We have here mainly used the following databases: EDGAR, WIOD, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.

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.