Connecting the dots between risks and solutions: Policy design for the Anthropocene

10/01/2019 - From climate change to biodiversity, land-system changes or altered biogechemical cycles – to prevent the world from overstepping critical planetary boundaries and to tackle global, long-run, and interconnected environmental risks, a comprehensive policy framework is needed. An international team of researchers now combines insights of natural and social sciences in a perspective piece just published in Nature Sustainability, one of the outlets of the leading scientific journal. They analyze guiding principles for such a policy design to keep Earth within biophysical limits favorable to human life. Among the authors are Earth System researcher Johan Rockström and climate economist Ottmar Edenhofer, who form the new joint - and interdisciplinary - leadership of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
Connecting the dots between risks and solutions: Policy design for the Anthropocene
The perspective piece is on the cover of the current Nature issue. (edited version of image by NASA, design by Alex Wing)

“Science is clear that we are at risk of destabilising the entire planet. The grand challenge is to recognise the need for new economic policies when faced with risks of irreversible changes at the global scale that would determine the future of all generations of humans on Earth,” says PIK Director Johan Rockström, who is also Professor of Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University.

While natural sciences so far focused mainly on characterizing planetary boundaries, the next step on the quest to sustainability is to develop a policy framework how to manoevre within them on the quest to sustainability, the researchers argue in their article. Connecting research on planetary boundaries and global commons by bringing together the natural sciences and the social sciences, the article shifts the focus to policy design and specific instruments to respond to different environmental challenges.

“The driving forces behind the unsustainable use of environmental resources threatening planetary boundaries are mainly economic – from population growth to income or changes in behavior and technology. To a considerable extent, they are the result of misguided market forces,“ says PIK Director Ottmar Edenhofer, who is also Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. Designing effective policies therefore requires an understanding of how economies work, the relevant trade-offs, and the role of incentives and political barriers to policy implementation.

A collaboration across a range of disciplines both among academics and practitioners will therefore be crucial, the authors stress. While different policy instruments are available, a multitude of geographical levels, interconnected boundaries, and spacial, ecological and sociopolitical complexities have to be taken into account to address the planetary boundaries as a whole. “Bringing together researchers from Earth System Analysis and Economics to agree to a common scientific agenda is a pivotal and remarkable first step,” Edenhofer concludes.


Article: Thomas Sterner, Edward B. Barbier, Ian Bateman, Inge van der Bijgaart, Anne-Sophie Crépin, Ottmar Edenhofer, Carolyn Fischer, Wolfgang Habla, John Hassler, Olof Johansson-Stenman, Andreas Lange, Stephen Polasky, Johan Rockström, Henrik G. Smith, Will Steffen, Gernot Wagner, James E. Wilen, Francisco Alpízar, Christian Azar, Donna Carless, Carlos Chávez, Jessica Coria, Gustav Engström, Sverker C. Jagers, Gunnar Köhlin, Asa Löfgren, Hakan Pleijel, Amanda Robinson (2019): Policy design for the Anthropocene. Nature Sustainability. [DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0194-x]

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