Safe and Just Space for Humanity

updated November 2016

The document articulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contains thousands of words, over and above the 169 Targets. An alternative visual concept has been developed over recent years by a partnership of earth scientists and human development experts.

Scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre have examined the sustainability of the planet’s natural life support systems by assessing nine critical areas of anthropogenic impact. They conclude that four of these measures – climate change, nitrogen and phosphorus use, biodiversity loss, and land-use change – exceed their “planetary boundaries”, the point at which the biosphere is at risk of instability. To be sustainable, future human development must correct these excesses.

© Oxfam International

© Oxfam International; (click image to enlarge)

Through a discussion paper originally published by Oxfam, development agencies have pointed out that tolerance thresholds also exist for individual families, whose social boundaries are measured in dignity rather than a test tube. To impose constraints on action to reduce poverty and hunger on account of environmental damage caused by affluent lifestyles would offend any sense of global justice.

The conceptual gap between these planetary and social boundaries therefore delineates “a safe and just space for humanity,” a “doughnut” vision of sustainable development. The SDGs must steer all humanity into this safe space if they are to gain universal support.


Global Sustainability and Planetary Boundaries – Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains the significance of planetary boundaries in the pursuit of sustainable development
from WIRED

Introducing ‘The Doughnut’ of social and planetary boundaries for development – Kate Raworth explains her idea of combining planetary and social boundaries into a vision of sustainable development
from Oxfam International

more SDGs briefings
What is Sustainable Development?
Teething Troubles for Sustainable Development
From MDGs to SDGs
Sustainable Development and GDP
Green Economy
Source material and useful links