An educational resource that promotes the values of global citizenship and international cooperation

Tread Softly briefings cover almost 100 topics relevant to sustainable development and global justice, organised into 12 familiar headings. The briefings offer basic analysis of the world’s major social and environmental problems. They seek to demonstrate that solutions invariably depend on principled international agreement and coordinated action.

Whilst the content strives to recognise differing views on controversial issues, there is a bias towards the call to “leave no one behind”, as articulated in the UN’s Global Goals on Sustainable Development. These Goals recognise principles of justice and equity, currently unfashionable, but likely to become the essential tools of humanity as the planet wrestles with its environmental limits.


Developed over the last decade, two concepts in particular encapsulate a vision of sustainable development that informs Tread Softly briefings.

Planetary Boundaries

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, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen) – exceed their “planetary boundaries”, the point at which the biosphere is at risk of instability.

These scientists believe that continued failure to respect planetary boundaries could drive earth systems into a permanently altered state, almost certainly with dire consequences for the human species.

Abundance within planetary boundaries – Johan Rockstrom continues to develop the concept of the safe operating space for humanity.
from Virgin Unite

The safe and just space for humanity

Inspired by a 2012 discussion paper published by Kate Raworth, then employed 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 policies which remedy environmental damage caused by affluent lifestyles, without priority for eliminating poverty and hunger, 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 UN Sustainable Development Goals must steer all humanity into this safe space if they are to be our touchstone.

Kate Raworth explains her idea of combining planetary and social boundaries into a vision of sustainable development
from Oxfam International


A Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries – a data-driven opportunity to visualise and compare the environmental and social performance of nations relative to a “safe and just” development space. Not one country currently meets basic needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use.

from University of Leeds