Click on image to downlload illustration. Credit: F. Pharand-Deschênes/Globaïa

Planetary boundaries research

The planetary boundaries concept presents a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come

In 2009, SRC director Johan Rockström led a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists to identify the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. The scientists proposed quantitative planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. Since then the planetary boundaries framework has generated enormous interest within science, policy, and practice.

In this TED talk from 2010 Johan Rockström introduces the Planetary Boundaries framework

The first scientific article on the framework was published in 2009 in the journal Ecology and Society and as of January 2018 has been cited 685 times. A feature article in Nature the same year generated more than 2,535 citations, according to Web of Science. New scientific insights on several of the processes were included in the 2015 update, published in Science. It stated that society’s activities have pushed climate change, biodiversity loss, shifts in nutrient cycles (nitrogen and phosphorus), and land use beyond the boundaries into unprecedented territory. Research and debate continue on the boundaries for water-system change and chemical pollution.

From 2017, Johan Rockström’s ERC Advanced Grant Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene is funding an exciting new phase in this work. SRC researchers including Sarah Cornell, Tiina Häyhä, Ingo Fetzer, Steve Lade, Andrea Downing, Jonathan Donges, and Avit Bhowmik have all been actively involved in advancing these frontier areas, and building collaborative research links among a growing international community of scientists.


The framework has also been influential in global policy. In 2011, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged global society to “Help us defend the science that shows we are destabilising our climate and stretching planetary boundaries to a perilous degree.” Centre researchers kept planetary boundaries in the forefront of policy-advisory processes leading up to the agreement of the global Sustainable Development Goals. Policy-makers working at national and European levels are also interested, catalysing a research network,, which links scientists involved in translating the global framework to operational decision-making scales.

A 2012 report to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency assessed Sweden’s responsibility, and a 2016 study for the European Environment Agency assessed the contribution to global boundaries both of activities within Europe’s territory and of effects of its citizens’ consumption. Increasingly, companies are asking for guidance on putting the planetary boundaries into business practice.

In 2012, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, a forum for 200 companies including some of the best-known brands in the world, used the planetary boundaries framework to shape their Action 2020 strategy. Since then, there has been further engagement with companies in financial investment, food, textiles, building, technology, and household goods sectors.

In 2017, SRC became the scientific partner in a research project with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Swedish clothing retailer H&M group, working to integrate the planetary boundaries framework and the circular economy concept.

Since the planetary boundaries were first presented, researchers from around the world have been working to advance the concept.
Read more about ongoing research here

Discussions of the Planetary Boundaries concept

A fundamental misrepresentation of the Planetary Boundaries framework (response to Montoya 2017)

Will Steffen, Johan Rockström and Katherine Richardson respond to critique in the New York Times' Dot Earth blog (scroll to bottom of page)(2015 paper)

Johan Rockström: addressing some key misconceptions (2009 paper)

Planetary Boundaries concept is valuable for policy (2009 paper)


For direct inquiries about the planetary boundaries concept and its research, please contact:

Sarah Cornell
Planetary boundaries coordinator

Phone +46 (0) 73 707 8580

Related content

  • Publications
    Here you can find the original articles behind the research along with related publications
  • Background
    How did the research on the planetary boundaries come about?
  • About the research
    Since the planetary boundaries were first presented in 2009, researchers from around the world have sought to advance the concept

Related info

Read more

Read more about the 2015 Planetary Boundaries article

Read the full 2009 scientific article here in Ecology and Society

Download supplementary information from the 2009 publicationPDF (pdf, 425.1 kB)

Read the 2009 Nature feature article and special Planetary Boundaries section

Download Planetary Boundaries for BusinessPDF (pdf, 937.4 kB)

Download 2015 Planetary Boundaries illustration * (credit: F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa)

Download 2015 Planetary Boundaries illustration in black and white (credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote Images)

Download 2009 Planetary Boundaries illustration JPG* (credit: Azote Images/Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Download 2009 Planetary Boundaries illustration EPS* (credit: Azote Images/Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Download Swedish version of 2015 Planetary Boundaries illustration (credit: Azote Images/Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Download Spanish version of 2015 Planeraty Boundaries illustration
(credit: Azote Images/Stockholm Resilience Centre)

*The 2009 and 2015 illustrations are free to use in publications, scientific or otherwise, describing the planetary boundaries concept. Correct credit is required.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201