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Safe Future for Humanity on Earth

Short thesis

A safe future for humanity on Earth can only be achieved on a healthy planet. Climate stability depends on a transition from incremental to transformative change. Science is clear: The world needs to follow exponential pathways in all sectors of society. This requires deep innovation, social transformation and a fundamental policy shift.


By 2020, it will already be five years since world leaders have bestowed their signatures on two crucial documents: The adoption of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and, after 21 years of negotiations, the adoption of the legally binding Paris Agreement, committing to keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C. Both were hopeful promises for humanity. Yet today, we can see quite clearly that we're not delivering on these promises.

One crucial step towards realising the two goals is to acknowledge that they depend on each other: A stable planet is a prerequisite to have good human life on Earth. The planetary boundary framework, introduced in 2009, provides a scientific guardrail on how to manage the atmosphere, oceans and forests sustainably as a common asset for all people on our planet. It allows for combining both the SDGs and the Paris goals in one analytical framework and defines a safe operating space on a stable earth system. The result is a completely new complex systems dynamic model, giving us a science-based framework for human prosperity and equity on a stable and resilient planet. It projects economic development, resources use from water, food and energy, population growth, and income per person, to name but a few. In this way, the model for the first time gives us a robust opportunity to really explore our future ability to attain the SDGs within the planetary boundaries.

It is thus possible to test different possible futures: business as usual, global transformations, different governance options. What the framework shows: Unless we radically change our direction, we will fail on both fronts. We will not attain the SDGs and we will transgress planetary boundaries – risking to push the earth system beyond irreversible and devastating tipping points. Hence, we need some radical thinking to enter a transformative, disruptive future. Six transformation ways may enable us to succeed with all SDGs and the Paris Agreement.