Safe and just Earth system boundaries and their translation to cities and businesses

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We present two papers that we co-authored as part of the Earth Commission. (1) In the first paper published in Nature, we quantify safe and just Earth system boundaries (ESBs) for climate, the biosphere, water and nutrient cycles, and aerosols at global and subglobal scales. For example, one of the biosphere boundaries states that every square kilometer of human-dominated landscapes should have at least 20-25% semi-natural ecosystems. These ESBs account for maintaining the resilience and stability of the Earth system (safe) and minimizing exposure to significant harm to humans from Earth system change (a necessary but not sufficient condition for justice). Seven of eight globally quantified safe and just ESBs and at least two regional safe and just ESBs in over half of global land area are already exceeded. (2) In the second paper, currently under review, we identify how these boundaries can be translated to science-based targets for actors such as cities and businesses. Robust, transparent, and fair cross-scale translation methods are essential to help navigate through the multiple steps of scientific and normative judgements in translation. We identify commonly used sharing approaches, illustrate ten principles of translation, and present a protocol involving key building blocks and control steps in translation. We conclude by outlining future work on (a) how cities can be transformative agents for a climate-safe future and (b) an Earth System Impact score for companies and investors.


About the Speakers

Xuemei Bai is a Distinguished Professor and an ARC Laureate Fellow at the Fenner School of Environment & Society. She is a member of the Earth Commission, leading it’s Working Group 5 on Translation.


Steve Lade is an ARC Future Fellow at the Fenner School of Environment & Society and the Institute for Water Futures. He is a member of the Earth Commission.


Updated:  3 November 2023/Responsible Officer:  Director, Fenner School/Page Contact:  Webmaster, Fenner School