What are planetary boundaries?

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8. December 2022

Planetary Boundaries describe a concept that defines nine environmental boundaries for our planet: Climate Change, New Substances and Modified Life Forms, Stratospheric Ozone Loss, Atmospheric Aerosol Content, Ocean Acidification, Biogeochemical Fluxes, Freshwater Use, Land Use Change and Biosphere Intactness.

Human-induced perturbations of Earth systems (e.g. increase in atmospheric CO2, ocean acidification) are calculated and visualised for each of the boundaries. As long as humans operate within the stress limits, humanity act within a “safe operation space”. Crossing one or more planetary boundaries carries the risk of abrupt environmental changes that can be harmful or even catastrophic.

Within the concept of planetary boundaries, economic systems and societies are embedded in the biosphere and therefore depend on its preservation. It sees the economy as an integral part of our society that must develop exclusively within planetary boundaries. Four planetary boundaries are defined as non-negotiable, namely: drinking water, climate, biodiversity and oceans. Therefore, according to the concept, sustainability goals 6 (water), 13 (climate), 14 (aquatic life) and 15 (terrestrial life) are of fundamental importance.

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