Samantha Deacon

June 1, 2022

Enabling transformative change to stay within our planet’s natural boundaries

Humanity is consuming resources 1.75 times faster than the planet can regenerate them. Closing the gap requires new legislation and a concerted effort by companies and individuals.

The Stockholm Environment Institute’s concept of planetary boundaries is based on the idea that humanity flourished under the conditions on Earth in the 10,000 years leading up to the industrial revolution. The researchers set out key environmental thresholds that should not be breached for fear of pushing Earth out of its “safe operating space for humanity”, in their words.
A recent study identified a dense network of interactions between the planetary boundaries. For example, land use change can lead to carbon emissions that increase atmospheric carbon dioxide affecting climate change. Unfortunately, once interactions are considered, they lead to an amplification of impacts, resulting in a shrinking ‘safe operating space’ for future human impacts on the Earth’s systems.
However, this interconnectedness also means reducing impacts on one planetary boundary may lessen impacts on others.
Facing twin crises
Planetary boundaries is a compelling concept, but has three flaws, according to experts:
  1. It omits that some natural resources are finite and cannot be recovered once a limit is reached.
  2. There is an issue with scale. Some boundaries relate to global issues, such as climate change, but others are only global if local problems are widely replicated, in aggregate, such as nitrogen fertiliser run-off from agricultural land.
  3. The concept cannot address modern environmental problems, such as oceanic ‘plastic soup’, because they do not pre-date the industrial revolution and therefore have no basis for a boundary threshold.
Play a part in transformative change
Last year on World Environment Day, the United Nations proclaimed 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, aiming to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. According to the UN, meeting this goal could help reduce poverty, combat climate change, and prevent a mass extinction. Since that call to action, we have seen positive changes but there is an urgent need for transformative actions. Three actions stand out:
  1. Climate action is in legislature and nature action needs to follow Governments can agree on global targets. For example, the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature sends a united signal to step up ambition for nature, with more than 90 world leaders committing to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. Governments need urgently to implement the ten commitments under the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and help secure a nature-positive world in this decade.
  2. Companies must do more, faster Businesses are encouraged to take action by signing up to develop science based targets for nature (SBTN) and advocating for ambitious nature policies. Financial institutions are developing a framework and guidance for disclosure and reporting on impacts and dependencies on nature through the Task Force for Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TFND). Ramboll is a member of the TNFD Forum and is working with companies to deliver their nature positive ambitions and commit to targets in line with SBTN. The challenge is making global aspirations relevant to a business’ value chain, sites, and operational activities. Read how we help clients be nature positive here.
  3. We all must play our part As individuals we must be accountable. This means choosing brands that demonstrate sustainability, committing to reduce our own environmental impact, and listening to the next generation who deal with the consequences of our resource choices today. There is a wealth of information online on how we can take action, including ideas from WWF and the UN.
We need urgent and enduring action
Whether we subscribe to planetary boundaries or more recent nature positive ambitions, we need an integrated understanding and approach to ecosystems for their restoration and to create resilient societies.
We need to tread more lightly by reducing rates of consumption supported by circular economy approaches and conserving more to achieve the global goal of nature positive by 2030.
Want to know more about nature positive solutions? Contact Samantha Deacon, Principal for Ecological Services at Ramboll.

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