Navigating Pathways within Earth’s Operating Space

Currently, environmental pressures are inconsistent with several planetary boundaries while at the same time a large number of people have no access to modern energy source, sufficient food or safe drinking water. A key question is how this can develop in the future – and what kind of development pathways are able stay within the limits of the Planetary Boundaries while at the same time improving people’s life’s; both being part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Integrated assessment models (IAM) can be used to explore the consequences of different human development pathways in terms of exceeding the planetary boundary levels. These models can also show relationships between planetary boundaries (as pressures often are related to the same human activities), explore the synergies and trade-offs between strategies that aim to achieve specific planetary boundaries related goals and achieving much broader sustainable development goals, and, finally, explore the effectiveness of various response strategies. This work package intends to contribute to IAM analysis of relevant scenarios, to contribute to cooperation between different modelling teams, and further development of IAM models to contribute to the type of analysis described above.


Related Projects

Energy pathways, the SDGs and planetary boundaries
Assessing the role of the energy sector in global change requires a holistic approach, in which the energy sector is not only brought into relation with climate change, but to a broader set of Global Environmental Change (GEC) and Human Development (HD) issues. The Planetary Boundaries concept provides a framework for a broad range of GEC issues. Moreover, the Sustainable Development Goals provide a basis for reframing the planetary boundaries in terms of underlying socio-economic drivers of sustainable development and HD impacts of GEC, providing a facilitating context for the governance of the planetary boundaries.

The aim of the project is to quantitatively explore the interlinkages between HD and GEC, while keeping the focus on the global energy system. The project builds on the rich scenario literature (co)developed by PBL using the IMAGE model, including the quantification of the new IPCC scenarios, the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), and PBL’s Roads from Rio+20 project.

The World in 2050
The World in 2050 project brings together leading modelling teams to perform an integrated assessment that addresses the full spectrum of sustainable development challenges. The project focusses on developing a set of scenarios using a backcasting approach that meet the Sustainable Development Goals (in 2030) and would move further towards staying with limits set by the Planetary Boundaries in 2050.
Find out more about World in 2050.

COPAN - Coevolutionary Pathways is dealing with linear and nonlinear feedbacks and alternative stable attractors in the mid- and long-term coevolution of natural and socio-economic subsystems of the Earth system like the great acceleration, great transformations, phase transitions between metabolic states, or societal collapses, natural and socio-economic planetary boundaries, and sustainable management pathways staying within these boundaries.
Find out more about COPAN.

Other Projects
In various other projects and assessments, IAMs are used to explore possible relationships between key planetary boundaries and human development. Important examples are the CD-LINKS project looking into the relationships between climate policy and sustainable development and activities by different teams looking at the so-called nexus between food, water and energy.



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Van Vuuren, D.P., Stehfest, E., Gernaat, D., Van den Berg, M., Harmsen, M., De Boer, H.-S., Bouwman, A., Daioglou, V., Edelenbosch, O., Girod, B., Kram, T., Lassaletta, L., Lucas, P.L., Van Meijl, H., Muller, C., Van Ruijven, B. and Van der Sluis, S. (2016). Energy, land-use and greenhouse gas emissions trajectories under a green growth paradigm. Global Environmental Change: in press, online first.

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Heck, V., Donges, J. F. and Lucht, W. (2016). Collateral transgression of planetary boundaries due to climate engineering by terrestrial carbon dioxide removal. Earth System Dynamics, in press, discussion paper: Earth System Dynamics Discussions (2016),