Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 267–279, 2016

Special issue: Social dynamics and planetary boundaries in Earth system...

Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 267–279, 2016

Research article 21 Mar 2016

Research article | 21 Mar 2016

Horses for courses: analytical tools to explore planetary boundaries

Detlef P. van Vuuren1,2, Paul L. Lucas1, Tiina Häyhä1,3, Sarah E. Cornell3, and Mark Stafford-Smith4 Detlef P. van Vuuren et al.
  • 1PBL Netherland Environmental Assessment Agency, Bilthoven, the Netherlands
  • 2Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Department of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 3Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 4CSIRO, Canberra, Australia

Abstract. There is a need for more integrated research on sustainable development and global environmental change. In this paper, we focus on the planetary boundaries framework to provide a systematic categorization of key research questions in relation to avoiding severe global environmental degradation. The four categories of key questions are those that relate to (1) the underlying processes and selection of key indicators for planetary boundaries, (2) understanding the impacts of environmental pressure and connections between different types of impacts, (3) better understanding of different response strategies to avoid further degradation, and (4) the available instruments to implement such strategies. Clearly, different categories of scientific disciplines and associated model types exist that can accommodate answering these questions. We identify the strength and weaknesses of different research areas in relation to the question categories, focusing specifically on different types of models. We discuss that more interdisciplinary research is need to increase our understanding by better linking human drivers and social and biophysical impacts. This requires better collaboration between relevant disciplines (associated with the model types), either by exchanging information or by fully linking or integrating them. As fully integrated models can become too complex, the appropriate type of model (the racehorse) should be applied for answering the target research question (the race course).

Short summary
There is a need for further integrated research on developing a set of sustainable development objectives, based on the proposed framework of planetary boundary indicators. This paper organises the research questions in four key categories. It subsequently discusses how different categories of scientific disciplines and in particular models can contribute to the necessary analysis.
Final-revised paper