Workshop #2

Legitimization of Setting Planetary Boundaries: Scientific Findings and Normative Choices

While the Planetary Boundaries (PBs) were conceived as a scientific concept based on Earth system science, their definition (based on the Holocene conditions) and their operationalization are also normative. First, acceptable risks (related to the transgression of PBs) can only be defined by society, based on probabilities, impacts and options available to reduce risk. Second, allocating the global safe operating space to individual countries, regions or even individual people will also require normative choices (equity, fairness, burden sharing, common but differentiated responsibility etc.), reconciling environmental and development objectives. The operationalization and application of the PB concept will thus require legitimization, which in turn depends on consensus building across societal groups, countries and regions. This workshop presents the current state of the discussion on the scientific and normative aspects of the PBs and proposes ways forward to co-design the further development and operationalization of the PBs.


Detlef van Vuuren, PBL


Katherine Richardson, Copenhagen University
Victor Galaz, SRC
Åsa Persson, SEI

Guiding Questions

  • What competing narratives about environmental limitations exist?
  • How “hard wired”, scientifically-defined and policy-prescriptive are the PBs, does the concept repeat older Malthusian divides, and what are the implications for (global) governance?
  • How much legitimacy does the PB concept currently enjoy, what are the challenges on the road towards operationalization and how should they be addressed?
  • What are (un-)acceptable environmental risks, who decides, how critical and how certain are the PBs, division of labor between experts and citizens?
  • What are the (perceived) implications of the PBs in terms of environmental justice and (the right to) development?
  • What are the lessons learned from the climate negotiations (“climate PB”)?