Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries

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* Report: A Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries. Dan O'Neill, Kate Raworth et al. Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, 2021



"No country in the world currently meets the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Our research, recently published in Nature Sustainability (and summarized in The Conversation), quantifies the national resource use associated with achieving a good life for over 150 countries. It shows that meeting the basic needs of all people on the planet would result in humanity transgressing multiple environmental limits, based on current relationships between resource use and human well-being.

Our analysis adopts the “safe and just space” framework created by Kate Raworth. This framework combines the concept of planetary boundaries, originally proposed by Johan Rockström and colleagues, with the complementary concept of social boundaries. There are nine planetary boundaries related to critical Earth-system processes which jointly define the safe space that humanity should stay within to maintain the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene period. However, remaining within planetary boundaries is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for sustainability. Human well-being must also be maintained, and it requires resources. The safe and just space framework therefore argues that development should occur within a doughnut-shaped space where resource use is above the level required to meet people’s basic needs, but below the level that carries a substantial risk of crossing the nine planetary boundaries.

We have downscaled five planetary boundary indicators (climate change, phosphorus loading, nitrogen loading, freshwater use, and land-use change) to per capita equivalents, and compared these to consumption-based environmental indicators (i.e. footprints) at the national scale. In addition to these, we have included two separate footprint indicators (ecological footprint and material footprint) and compared these to their suggested maximum sustainable levels. The result is seven biophysical indicators in comparison to their respective boundaries (Table 1). The per capita boundaries assume a global population of seven billion people. All seven indicators are consumption-based measures that account for international trade.

To assess social outcomes, we have used a set of eleven social indicators that are common to studies following the safe and just space framework, and the social objectives contained in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For each of these indicators we have identified a threshold value consistent with a “good life” for a nation’s citizens (Table 2). Although the choice of the social thresholds is undoubtedly subjective, we believe each constitutes a reasonable assessment of a level of performance consistent with meeting basic needs. See the scientific journal article for more information, including a full discussion of the biophysical and social indicators, data sources, and analytic framework. " (

More information

  • The methods and results underpinning the data used on this website have been peer-reviewed and are published in the following scientific journal article: O’Neill, D.W., Fanning, A.L., Lamb, W.F., and Steinberger, J.K. (2018). A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability 1, 88-95. doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0021-4. [1]