Source Materials: What’s Available on Climate and Sustainability

by George A. Garland, Director, Energy Project

A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can We Live Within the Doughnut?

is an Oxfam Discussion Paper by Kate Raworth. Traditional economic analysis assumes that all information is available and the price system makes optimal decisions. Kate Raworth uses the doughnut to show planetary boundaries of a safe operating space and the unmet need for economic justice for the billion or so people living on less than $1.25 a day. The center of the doughnut represents economic injustice and the outside of the doughnut is earth unsafe for humans.  This is a great summary of environmental and developmental issues not captured by the normal price system.

Planetary Boundaries The past 10,000 years or so (the Holocene) have been a safe operating space for humans with temperatures within a relatively narrow range. Just published in Science, “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet” updates a 2009 article which introduced tipping points beyond which we could move out of a safe operating space. These nine dimensions are, briefly, climate change, biosphere integrity (biodiversity), land system change (forests, agricultural use), ocean acidification, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen, phosphorous), freshwater use, atmospheric aerosol loading, stratospheric ozone depletion, and novel entities (chemical pollution). A range of values is given within which risk of unexpected and irreversible change is possible. For climate change, the range of atmospheric carbon is 350 parts per million to 500 parts per million. We are currently at about 400 parts per million so we are in the zone of risk.

Sustainable Development Goals The United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda will be held from 25 to 27 September 2015, in New York and convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly.

A draft set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), with 169 targets, will form the basis of intergovernmental discussions over the next year. The draft, compiled by a UN-appointed working group that comprised 70 countries, was presented to the General Assembly.

Age of Sustainability Jeff Sachs, United Nations point person for Sustainable Development Goals and Director of Columbia’s Earth Institute, points out that global economic production will triple by 2050 while carbon intensity needs to fall by half from amount used today—a reduction by a factor of 6. His course highlights challenges including sustainable cities, food, energy, and health to achieve social justice, good governance, and environmental sustainability.  Enroll at


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