PLANETARY BOUNDARIES & SOCIAL THRESHOLDS: THE 2020 FRAMEWORK FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY A


THE WELSH DOUGHNUT 2020: A framework for environmental sustainability and social justice – An example of how to translate the doughnut

One of the questions we often hear when working with organisations is how to integrate the planetary boundaries and social thresholds framework into their strategy.

To illustrate how other organisations have addressed this question – we wanted to share an inspiring update from Oxfam which shows how the planetary boundaries and social thresholds can be translated to the scale of a country – Wales.

In making the boundaries and thresholds relevant to Wales, the original work (2015) adopted a multi-stakeholder approach, engaging local community, social equity and environmental groups to understand the priorities in Wales.

1. Refining the thresholds to be relevant to local context

*The original framework (Oxfam/Raworth 2012) sets out twelve social thresholds. To better reflect national priorities and context within Wales, the Oxfam study adapted and refined some of these thresholds [see table 1 for full details], For instance:

*The original thresholds of ‘Network’ and ‘Peace and justice’ were translated for Wales to ‘Connectivity and social relationships’ and ‘Crime’ respectively

*A new threshold of Local environment was added for Wales

*The threshold of Water and sanitation was not included for Wales.

Specific indicators were also developed to reflect the national context, for instance:

*Energy: Rather than % of people without electricity, the Wales indicator was Fuel poverty (10% or more of income required to be spent on all energy)

*Health: Wales include a measure for mental health (% of people experiencing high levels of anxiety).

2. Downscaling the planetary boundaries to local context

The planetary boundaries were established originally at a global scale, with some regional indicators (Rockström 2009). To make these relevant to local context, boundaries and indicators were adapted within the Wales study, For instance:

*Ocean acidification was translated to Ocean harvesting as an indicator of ocean health

*Atmospheric aerosol was translated to local air quality.

Similarly, specific local indicators were adopted, including [see Table 2]

​*Biodiversity: With the UK Farmland Birds Index used as an indicator

*Bio-geochemical flows: With the nitrogen and phosphorus status of Welsh rivers used as indicators

*Ocean health: 100% of marine fish stocks at/or below Maximum Sustainable Yield (the highest average annual catch that can be sustained over time –WWF).

What were the results

As Table 1 and Table 2 show the evidence brought together in the report paints a stark picture.

*Social Thresholds: The study found almost one-quarter of households in Wales are living in relative, income-related, poverty, which is also associated with lower levels of life expectancy and educational achievement and a greater proportion of disposable income being spent on housing costs

*Planetary Boundaries: The study found three of the planetary boundaries are breached for Wales. The climate change planetary boundary in Wales is exceeded by 455%, and the land-use change figure is exceeded by 200%. The study also found that Wales is facing an ecological emergency with one in six species in Wales at risk of extinction (State of Nature 2019).

ARTICLE 13 VIEWPOINT - What does this mean?

Despite the challenge of methodological and data limitations, this level of analysis from Wales – provides a powerful example that the planetary boundaries and social thresholds can provide critical tool for national, regional and corporate policy making.

In particular, and as the Oxfam study reflects, rather than providing all the answers, the value of the planetary boundaries and social threshold doughnut model lies in provoking public discussion and opening up new questions and solutions.

For countries and business to play its part in the achievement of living within our planetary boundaries, they must address their real impact on the planet’s resources and base reduction targets on what the world needs them to do.

As we have found through our ongoing work and research, the planetary boundaries and social threshold model also provides a valuable tool for businesses to

1. Identify sustainability priorities and inform strategy development

2. Develop measurement indicators

3. Set context-based targets – to deliver what the world needs

4. Provoke discussion and open up new questions, solutions and innovations

Table 1: Social thresholds – as used within Wales assessment results

*Wales* = sub-domain or indicator which differs to original thresholds

Table 2: Planetary boundaries – as used within Wales assessment

*Wales* = sub-domain or indicator which differs to original boundaries

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