Embracing Planetary Boundaries Part 1.


Daniel Nowak, Graduate Research Consultant

A shift in perspective.

There is a reported phenomenon that when astronauts in space view the Earth, they feel a profound sense of awe and interconnectedness, as well as an increased awareness of the fragility and preciousness of our planet. Despite our attempts at leaving it, we only have one planet, floating in the vast nothingness of space, with nowhere else to go. The idea of Spaceship Earth places us as crew on this socio-ecological system, with a finite tank of resources and a growing number of people to provide for. It is becoming increasingly clear that this ship is out of control and that we are on the brink of multiple connected crises, from climate change and biodiversity loss to poverty and geopolitical conflict.

The Planetary Boundaries

The concept of the Planetary Boundaries was developed by scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, to act as a guide, or compass, on how we can continue to develop as a human society within the constraints of our planet. They have outlined the following nine boundaries that, if crossed, risk destabilising the Earth system:

  • Climate Change
  • Biosphere Integrity
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Freshwater Use
  • Biogeochemical Flows
  • Land System Change
  • Stratospheric Ozone Depletion
  • Atmospheric Aerosol Loading
  • Novel Entities

Of these nine boundaries, five have currently been crossed. However, there is still a window for course correction. By respecting these critical processes, or life support systems, that regulate the functioning and stability of our planet we can ensure resilience for future generations. By embracing the Planetary Boundaries framework and adopting a systems-thinking approach, we have a powerful tool to address the challenges we face.

Balancing human needs with Earth limits

By recognising the generosity that our planet provides, there is not only potential to coexist within Planetary Boundaries, but to prosper.

This involves prioritising wellbeing, forming a more regenerative relationship with nature, and adopting Circular Economy principles that manage and distribute resources sustainably and equitably. Finding the intricate balance and connection between human needs and Planetary Boundaries presents an extraordinary opportunity, a genuine invitation to build a future that thrives.

Designing the future

In my research, I aim to investigate how we can use the Planetary Boundaries framework to set ambitious science-based targets and guide holistic solutions for the built environment.

In Part 2, I will share more in-depth findings about how we could integrate this framework into our approach to sustainability.