Operate within the boundaries of our planet

One Planet Thinking is inspired by the Planetary Boundaries concept developed by a group of environmental scientists led by Dr. Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University. The Planetary Boundary concept illustrates the risk of human interference with the Earth system. The framework delineates safe boundaries for nine critical Earth system processes. Within defined safe operating spaces human societies can develop and thrive. Human actions have already pushed four of these systems - climate change, land system change, biodiversity integrity and biochemical flows - beyond their safe operating space. The graphic below gives a general description of the boundaries and its current status.
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Increasing risk
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  • Biogeochemical flows

    Increase of nitrogen and phosphor leaking into the ecosystem causes a change in terrestrial, marine and aquatic systems. The main purpose of N is enhance food production via fertilization, the boundary is set at 25% of currently produced (35Mt N/yr). Phosphate is a finite fossil mineral, the boundary is set < 10 times the natural background.
  • Biosphere integrity

    The accelerated biodiversity loss is very serious due to importance of biodiversity for sustaining ecosystem services. Species loss affects the potential to respond and adapt to changes in ecosystem caused by trespassing other boundaries. There is no safe limit for loss of species. The boundary is set at 10 extinctions per million species per year.
  • Climate change

    The boundary of climate change reflects the maximal level the global temperature can rise before irreversible, not accepted, changes will occur. Since the temperature rise is depending on CO2 increase and radiation, the boundary is set on 350ppm CO2 and 1Wm-2 radiation forcing.
  • Land-system change

    Land-System change is primarily driven by agricultural expansion and intensification. Land-System change is mainly conversion of forests and other ecosystems to agricultural land, and is seriously threatening biodiversity and undermining regulatory capacities of the Earth System. The boundary is set at 15% of the lobal ice-free land surface converted to crop land.
  • Ocean acidification

    Oceans acidification is caused by higher uptake of atmospheric CO2 in oceans and poses a challenge to marine biodiversity and ability of oceans to function as a sink of CO2. Many marine organism cannot survive, if the Ocean takes up to much CO2. The Ocean Acidification is measured in aragonite saturation and the boundary is set on 80% of the preindustrial level (Ωarag 3.44).
  • Freshwater use

    Humans are main influencers of the global freshwater cycle, which affects biodiversity, food, health security and ecological functioning. The boundary must be set to sustain green water flows for moisture feedback and blue water resources for aquatic ecosystems. Despite local huge differences, the global boundary on green water use ~4000km3/yr and on blue water use ~12500 km3/yr.
  • Stratospheric ozone depletors

    Stratospheric ozone filters ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The appearance of the Antarctic ozone hole was a textbook example of a threshold in the Earth System being crossed - completely unexpected. The boundary is set at less than 5% decrease with respect to 1964-1980 values.
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading

    Aerosol loading is fine particulate air pollutions which influence human health and the loading of aerosols influencing the earth’s radiation balance, like cloud reflection or form precipitation in clouds. Since there are so many different aerosols with so different effects no boundary can be set.
  • Novel entities

    Primary types of chemical pollution include radioactive compounds, heavy metals and organic compounds of human origin. It affects human and ecosystem health and acts as variable that affects other planetary boundaries. Since there are so many different, mainly local, chemical components, there is no planetary boundary set.

How can we stay within the ecological boundaries of our planet?

In 2017, Metabolic (a consulting company that uses system-thinking to tackle sustainability challenges) produced a report about the implementation of corporate sustainability targets based on ecological boundaries, titled: "One Planet Approaches: Methodology Mapping and Pathways Forward". The report was commissioned by One Planet Thinking. It provided the theoretical and methodological basis for further development and implementation of the One Planet Thinking program.

Read more about the report below.



Methodology Mapping and Pathways Forward