Planetary Boundaries: Talking Green Economy with Johan Rockstrom

Leading scientist Johan Rockstrom explains the concept of planetary boundaries which proposes there is a safe operating space for human development.

The concept has risen up the global agenda in recent years because:

Mounting scientific evidence shows the planet is a complex interconnected system that depends on several processes to be stable and “so provide the basis for human development”.

Humanity is putting unprecedented pressure on the planet

The 9 planetary boundaries are:

1) Climate change

2) Ozone layer

3) Ocean acidification

4) Global nutrient cycle

5) Land use

6) Fresh water use

7) Biodiversity loss

8) Air pollution

9) Chemical pollution

Rockstrom says growth is not the problem but the type of growth we currently pursue. Growth is needed to improve living standards, particularly in the global south, but it needs to be a “new type of de-materialised growth that closes loops in all the planetary boundaries”.

The current economic paradigm needs to be changed because it does “not respond to the needs of a global transition towards sustainability within a safe operating space”. Part of this means placing an economic value on natural capital and regulating environmental services.

Rockstrom proposes:

  • Work on redefining GDP because: “it’s absurd that you increase your GDP by chopping down forest, degrading land or intoxicating your environment. So that has to change as of yesterday”.
  • A global tax on carbon. Rockstrom cites the example of successful efforts to protect the ozone layer in the 1980s and says “industry was ready to move then and is ready to move now to de-carbonise our economies”
  • Global top-down governance to address these global issues alongside bottom-up innovation. He argues we do not have the luxury of time to rely only on bottom-up innovation that might not add up to the changes that are needed.  This could be done by upgrading the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to give it the authority to “govern within planetary boundaries”.

Listen to a podcast discussing the planetary boundaries concept (The Guardian Sustainable Business / January 2013)


This summary was prepared by Why Green Economy?. The views expressed have been paraphrased. See the original source for more information.

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