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How to stop cities and companies causing planetary harm

More than a decade ago, scientists defined a set of biophysical global limits, known as planetary boundaries, within which humanity can operate ‘safely’. These span nine areas — climate change, the biosphere, nutrients, water, land use, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, aerosols and ‘novel entities’ (pollutants and pathogens). Next year, in 2023, a global task force formed in 2019 by natural and social scientists and named the "Earth Commission", will issue its first report outlining the ‘Earth system boundaries’ (ESBs), integrating social-science perspectives to ensure that such quantified boundaries are ‘just’, as well as safe.

Researchers must develop methods to identify what cities and companies must do for the world to stay within the ESBs and assess their share of the responsibility for staying within global budgets of carbon, water, nutrients, land and other natural resources, and set targets to protect them.

This will be difficult. For example, how much of the world’s phosphorus fertilizer should well-off London or struggling Dhaka rightfully access to produce food for their residents ? Or how should responsibility for protecting the Amazon rainforest be apportioned among hundreds of distant cities and companies that source supplies from the region or benefit from its ecosystem services ?

Here are seven knowledge gaps in translating ESBs for cities and businesses:

  1. Develop common procedures

  2. Focus on interactions

  3. Acknowledge different dynamics

  4. Allocate for justice and equity

  5. Support monitoring and accountability

  6. Establish governance mechanisms

  7. Design incentives

Click on the image* below to read more, article from Nature, including linked reference to the website Science Based Targets Network.

* A rubbish heap in Accra, Ghana, containing discarded second-hand clothing imported from Europe and the United States. Credit: Andrew Esiebo/Panos Pictures


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“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

“I am among those who think that science has great beauty”

Madame Marie Curie (1867 - 1934) Chemist & physicist. French, born Polish.

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