How university students assess the planetary boundaries: a global empirical study


  • We studied students’ perceptions of the planetary boundaries in 35 countries.
  • Using a spectral clustering algorithm, countries were grouped into 5 clusters.
  • Different indicators were used to explain the cluster result.
  • Prosperity, natural resources and forest area provide explanations for the results.
  • Decision makers should take steps to improve perceptions of planetary boundaries.


In order to effectively address global environmental problems, it is important that future decision-makers in society are aware of the safe operation space for humans, which is limited by the planetary boundaries. Until now, however, there has been a lack of international studies examining how the planet’s boundaries are perceived. In this study, we investigated how students of environmental and sustainability studies in 35 countries (n = 4140) assess the planetary boundaries. Based on the rating, using spectral clustering, the 35 countries were assigned to five different clusters. Four indicators (Human Development Index, Legatum Prosperity Index, Natural Resources Income and Forest Area) were used to provide explanations for the clustering result. The indices allow a distinction between the clusters and provide initial explanations for the clustering. The results provide important insights for today’s decision-makers, as possible measures for action in the individual countries can be derived from the findings.

Kleespies M. W., Hahn-Klimroth M. & Dierkes P. W., 2023. How university students assess the planetary boundaries: a global empirical study. Environmental Challenges 11:.100712. doi: 10.1016/j.envc.2023.100712. Article.

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