Human impacts on planetary boundaries amplified by Earth system interactions

The planetary boundary framework presents a ‘planetary dashboard’ of humanity’s globally aggregated performance on a set of environmental issues that endanger the Earth system’s capacity to support humanity. While this framework has been highly influential, a critical shortcoming for its application in sustainability governance is that it currently fails to represent how impacts related to one of the planetary boundaries affect the status of other planetary boundaries. Here, we surveyed and provisionally quantified interactions between the Earth system processes represented by the planetary boundaries and investigated their consequences for sustainability governance. We identified a dense network of interactions between the planetary boundaries. The resulting cascades and feedbacks predominantly amplify human impacts on the Earth system and thereby shrink the safe operating space for future human impacts on the Earth system. Our results show that an integrated understanding of Earth system dynamics is critical to navigating towards a sustainable future.

Citation: Lade, S.J., W. Steffen, W. de Vries, et al. 2020 Nature Sustainability 3:119-128

Human impacts on planetary boundaries amplified by Earth system interactions

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