Planetary Boundaries: a framework  for humanity  [PDF version]

Introduced in 2009 as a new approach to global sustainability, planetary boundaries define a safe operating space for humanity. Four of the proposed nine boundaries are exceeded already today. IEEP has interviewed two scientists on the policy implications of the framework.


An international team of scientists developed the concept of planetary boundaries in 2009 and provided an update in 2015. The framework defines nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can develop safely. These boundaries relate to the level of stratospheric ozone, biodiversity, chemical pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater, land-system change, biogeochemical flows, and atmospheric aerosol. Currently, climate change, biodiversity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change exceed these boundaries. A planetary boundary is not equal to reaching a global threshold or tipping point, but is placed before the thresholds, allowing time to react.

What are the policy implications of being aware of limited resources and of determining critical parameters for life on Earth? IEEP explored this issue in an interview with Will Steffen and Katherine Richardson, two scientists involved in developing the planetary boundaries concept. According to the concept’s developers, the approach is not incompatible with economic growth and consumption if efforts are concentrated towards reducing human pressures on the environment, notably through a circular economy.

Already the concept of planetary boundaries is being discussed worldwide. What it lacks is the integration of economic and social objectives. The framework should be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so governance can be carried out without overlooking environmental protection, economic development and social justice.

For more information on this work, please contact Konar Mutafoglu.