Human activities are disrupting the Earth system's biophysical processes, which underlie human wellbeing. The planetary boundary framework sets 'safe' global limits on these pressures, but a sub-global assessment of these pressures, their interactions and subsequent systemic effects is needed to enable corporate and public entities to assess the systemic environmental impacts of their decisions. Here, we developed a prototype Earth system impact metric that is savvy to Earth system interactions. First, we quantified sub-global interactions between climate change, surface water runoff, and vegetation cover using the global dynamic vegetation model LPJmL (Lund-Potsdam-Jena managed Land). Second, we used a feedback model to study how these interactions amplify environmental impacts. We found, for example, that interactions more than double the Earth system impacts of deforestation in some tropical forests. Finally, we combined these amplification factors with an assessment of the current state of the Earth system to create a prototype Earth system impact metric. We envision that future versions of our prototype metric will allow corporate and public actors to better assess the systemic environmental impacts of their decisions. Our ambition is that these results catalyse further scientific work to extend and improve this metric, as well as action by investors, companies, cities, and governments to deliver sustainable outcomes across the private and public sectors.
Citation: Lade, S., I. Fetzer, S.E. Cornell and B. Crona 2021 Environmental Research Letters 16(115005)