National environmental limits and footprints based on the Planetary Boundaries framework: the case of Switzerland

Highlights

• Planetary Boundaries: going from bio-physical to related socio-economic indicators.
• Setting limits at country level considering the role of countries and people needs.
• Limits and footprints are computed for the world and for a case study: Switzerland.
• Global priorities: Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, Biodiversity, Nitrogen Loss.

Abstract

The Planetary Boundaries concept is a recent scientific framework, which identifies a set of nine bio-physical limits of the Earth system that should be respected in order to maintain conditions favourable to further human development. Crossing the suggested limits would lead to drastic changes in human society by disrupting some of the ecological bases that underlie the current socio-economic system. As a contribution to the international discussion, and using the case of Switzerland, this study proposes a methodology to apply the Planetary Boundaries concept on the national level. Taking such an approach allows to assess the environmental sustainability of the socio-economic activities (e.g. consumption) by the inhabitants of a country in a long-term global perspective, assuming that past, current and future populations on Earth have similar “rights” to natural resources. The performance of countries is evaluated by comparing the country limits with their environmental footprints according to a consumption-based perspective. An approach was developed to: i) better characterise the Planetary Boundaries and understand which limits can effectively be currently quantified; ii) identify related socio-economic indicators for which both country limits and footprints can be computed; iii) compute values for limits, footprints and performances (at global and country level); and iv) suggest priorities for action based on the assessment of global and national performances. It was found that Switzerland should, as a priority, act on its footprints related to Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, Biodiversity Loss and Nitrogen Loss. The methodology developed herein can be applied to the analysis of other countries or territories, as well as extended to analyse specific economic sectors.

Dao H., Peduzzi P. & Friot D., 2018. National environmental limits and footprints based on the Planetary Boundaries framework: the case of Switzerland. Global Environmental Change 52: 49-57. Article (subscription required).

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