Operationalizing Boundaries

The initial planetary boundaries concept by Rockström et al (2009) was “designed to advance Earth System science”. “However it could indeed become a useful policy tool with further development…. The governance implications of the planetary boundaries concept is a research challenge in its own right.(reply by Rockström to PB criticism, see PB web-site)
A number of research groups, e.g. in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa and China have begun to downscale, translate and apply the planetary boundaries
to their respective national contexts. This has happened without coordination, following quite different approaches, and sometimes only loosely connected to the original PBs.

This theme / working group aims at a consistent framework for operationalizing the planetary boundaries that facilitates vertical and horizontal policy coherence across scales and sectors, which has the following components:

  1. (biophysical/environmental, economic, social) downscaling of the PBs
  2. benchmarking actual environmental performance against these downscaled PBs
  3. mapping and mainstreaming PBs into relevant policy areas


Related Projects

The future is still open, but development possibilities are constrained by environmental limits. In the project, planetary opportunity spaces for resource use (biomass, water) of future societies as constrained by "planetary boundaries" are explored. Boundaries are designed and quantified anew, geographically explicitly, and with novel metrics.
Find out more about OPEN.

German operationalization project:
Planetary Boundaries - Challenges for Science, Civil Society and Policy
Scientists from PIK and adelphi work on an operationalization of planetary boundaries on the national level for Germany in a project commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building, and Nuclear Safety of Germany (BMUB).
Find out more about the German operationalization project.

EU operationalization project
This project by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Agency (PBL) aims at downscaling Planetary Boundaries to the European scale, comparing these downscaled boundaries to the actual performance and mainstreaming them into EU policies. The project has been commissioned by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Environment Knowledge Community, which consists of EEA, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Directorates General of Environment, Climate and Research and Innovation.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing a wide range of data products relevant to detecting changes in terrestrial ecosystems. The Coupled Atmosphere Biosphere virtual LABoratory project CAB-LAB aims to use the full potential of simultaneously exploring multiple EO data streams. It is the project's objective to allow the scientific community to adopt a more holistic approach to understanding land-atmosphere interactions and the role of humans.
Find out more about CAB-LAB.



Häyhä T., Lucas P., van Vuuren D.P., Cornell S.E., Hoff H. (2016): From Planetary Boundaries to national fair shares of the global safe operating space – How can the scales be bridged?,  Global Environmental Change 40: 60–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.06.008

Hoff H., Lucht W., Kahlenborn W., Keppner B. (2015): Anschlußfähigkeit der Planetary N-Boundary für eine integrierte Stickstoffstrategie in Deutschland, UBA

Hoff H., Nykvist B., Carson M. (2014): Living well, within the limits of our planet? Measuring Europe's growing external footprint, Stockholm Environment Institute, Working Paper

Lucas, P.L., Ludwig, K., Kok, M.T.J., Kruitwagen, S. (2016). Sustainable Development Goals in the Netherlands: Building blocks for environmental policy for 2030. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency: The Hague, the Netherlands.


Past and Future Events

Science-Policy Dialogue on Planetary Boundaries and Resource Efficiency -  Two Complementary Approaches for Integrated SDG Implementation (02.-04.05.2016)
see the summary

Planetary Boundaries and Resource Efficiency -  A Science Policy Dialogue (29.02.2016)
see the programme