Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.
For businesses to play their 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.
Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity. These are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen). Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are core boundaries. Significantly altering either of these core boundaries would drive the Earth System into a new state.
This has to be balanced with the need for human growth taking into account social needs such as jobs, education, food, access to water, health services and energy and to accommodate an environmentally safe space compatible with poverty eradication and "rights for all". Within planetary limits and an equitable social foundation lies a doughnut shaped area which is the area where there is a "safe and just space for humanity to thrive in" . So far, across 150 countries, not a single country satisfies its citizens' basic needs while maintaining a globally sustainable level of resource use .
The resultant framework has informed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For the past nine years Article 13 have reviewed the world’s 240 largest companies to assess their performance against our 9 planetary limits and 12 social thresholds . This research enables us to examine how many of those companies have impact measures and targets in place to help address what the World really needs.
This year, we have extended our research to calculate the combined impact of these companies on certain boundaries – carbon, water and land use.
We’ve also been speaking to companies’ sustainability practitioners to find out
1. How our planetary limits and social needs are shaping their sustainability strategies.
2. How they have evolved their measurement, target-setting and reporting to reflect our planetary limits and social needs (including use of the SDGs).
3. How they have enacted change at their companies to help live within our planetary limits and social needs.
Our early findings suggest:
- Only a third of Companies are basing their targets on what the world needs
- Whilst significant progress has been made around impact measures and targets for social needs, the level of corporate action to address their impact on planetary limits has stalled.
The full research findings will be published this Summer. Sign up for a briefing here.
For further information see www.article13.com/d-is-for-doughnut-slides
1 Steffen et al. 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science Vol. 347 no. 6223
2 Climate change: Understanding Rio+20 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ITIN, 3 April 2012.
3 O’Neill, Daniel W.; Fanning, Andrew L.; Lamb, William F.; Steinberger, Julia K. (2018). "A good life for all within planetary boundaries". Nature Sustainability.
ABOUT OUR RESEARCH
1. How were companies selected
Companies were selected according to four factors to ensure a representative sample size. Ability to impact planetary limits (e.g. largest companies globally by revenue); Public commitment to sustainability (e.g. constituents of sustainability leadership rankings such as Corporate Knights); Representatives of largest companies by regional stock exchange and by super-sector listing. Representatives by geography (largest companies for different regions: Europe, Middle East and Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Australia).
2. Planetary boundaries and social thresholds
Planetary boundaries: In 2009, Johan Rockström and 28 scientists identified the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. They proposed quantitative planetary boundaries. Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes.
Social thresholds: In 2016, Kate Raworth (Oxfam) combined the nine planetary boundaries with twelve social thresholds, which set out quantifiable basic needs for all people. The planetary boundaries and social thresholds were key scientific inputs to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. https://www.article13.com/d-is-for-doughnut