Planetary Change in the Anthropocene

The science around Planetary Boundaries has advanced significantly in the past few years, drawing attention to complex interactions between the Earth’s life-supporting systems. Furthermore it has become clear that human interference with the Earth system is now putting us at risk of far-reaching environmental damage: not just due to climate change, but due to transgression of six of the nine Planetary Boundaries. In parallel, recent advances in the science of tipping elements show that we are rapidly approaching global warming levels at which the risk of triggering several tipping elements in the Earth system becomes high, and with it the risk of irreversible and catastrophic change. In particular the world’s oceans are both an essential component of the global carbon-climate cycle, as well as a victim of accelerating global change. Deeper knowledge of ocean dynamics and biology will be essential in better understanding the level of human-induced pressure our planet can withstand. The implications for human wellbeing of transgressing Planetary Boundaries and reaching tipping points are vast: food, water and energy security, as well as innumerable contributions to human health depend inextricably on stability of the Earth system. Adding the preconditions of global equity and justice for all people is essential to understanding how we can return our planet to a safe operating space, whilst highlighting the how human activity has become a determining factor within the Earth system.

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