Planetary boundaries for environmental policy? adelphi looks at the prospects

The Earth's finite capacities set narrow limits on human activity. But what kinds of challenges are set in the attempt to realign environmental policy in line with the concept of planetary boundaries? An adelphi-led consortium is pursuing this question on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency.


In 2009, a group of academics from various disciplines identified the limits of our planet’s capacities in nine different areas. These limits were termed "planetary boundaries" or "critical planetary boundaries". The international working group around Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, also works on the question of how interactions between ecological processes and human activity could be tangibly developed and controlled. According to the working group, humanity should establish itself and further evolve within the limits set by these processes. Exceeding these limits causes changes in ecological conditions that may develop into life-threatening risks for future generations.

Consortium developing recommendations for action for German environmental policy

The concept of planetary boundaries is already one of the guiding principles in environmental policy in Sweden and Switzerland. On behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency, a consortium led by adelphi is examining the relevance and scope for application of the concept in Germany. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges pertaining to the implementation of this concept should then be analysed in a national, European and international context.

This comprehensive study considered the impact the concept would have on research, society, politics and the economy, focusing at the same time on different target groups and purposes. The aim of the project is to formulate recommendations which the most important environmental institutions can use to adopt and apply the concept of planetary boundaries.

adelphi is in this project cooperating with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) as well as experts from Oxford University, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and from Shaping Environmental Action.