Site icon Shell Climate Change

Simplifying the Planetary Boundaries

I have just got back from the annual Council meeting for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) where it was good to hear the new President, Peter Bakker, talking about a much more focused and serious response from the organisation to key issues such as climate change. During the week real challenge has come from the likes of Paul Gilding and Will Steffen of The Stockholm Resilience Centre. The latter is well known for the development of the Planetary Boundaries framework, which seeks to quantify the limits on a set of critical parameters impacting the stability of the conditions of the Holocene period (which has seen the development of human civilization during a 10,000 year period of relative global stability).

The nine Planetary Boundaries are shown in the figure above and are;

These have become a useful metric, but Will Steffen admitted that the complexity of the subject has been a challenge. A further challenge to simplify the structure has been posed back to the Stockholm Resilience Centre. They have taken up this challenge and revisited the approach, reducing it to three critical metrics. They are as follows;

The nine boundaries work still stands and will continue to be critical to their thinking, with this new model more an “aide memoire” to the bigger picture.

P.S. This is becoming old news now, but in the same session at the WBCSD meeting, a comment was also made about Hurricane Sandy, its impact and climate change. The view expressed was that these are linked for three reasons;

    1. This was by far the biggest hurricane ever recorded north of the Carolinas. It was driven by increasingly warmer waters in the Atlantic.
    2. It should have tracked out into the Atlantic as many hurricanes have done, but didn’t because of a large blocking high pressure system. There is growing evidence that the appearance of such high pressure systems is linked to the change in ice cover in the Arctic. 2012 saw the lowest September Arctic sea ice cover on record.
    3. New York infrastructure was built in a different era. Even the 20cms of additional sea level over the past century made a significant difference to the water volume in the storm surge and the consequent flooding of lower Manhattan and other low lying areas.

C2ES also released a paper on this subject during the week, which you can view here.

Exit mobile version