Operationalizing the concept of a safe operating space at the EU level – first steps and explorations


This study has made an initial disaggregation, allocation and benchmarking analysis to the EU-28 level, for the planetary boundaries for climate change, biosphere integrity, land systems change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), and novel entities (chemical pollution).

The following overarching insights relate to all PBs:

Based on equal-per capita allocation of the global safe operating space, the EU does not appear to be “living within the limits of our planet” for most of the boundaries analysed.

From a consumption-based (footprint) perspective, Europe’s per-capita contribution to the different PBs is significantly higher than the global average.

Regarding past trends, decreases in Europe’s territorial pressures are mostly outweighed by increasing environmental pressures in other world regions, thereby externalising the EU’s environmental footprint. As a result, Europe’s total consumption-based environmental performance does not show an improvement trend for most PBs.

The social and ecological impacts of pressures on PBs can be more severe in the locations to which the pressures are externalized, compared to the same pressure exerted within Europe.

Data and information limitations present challenges, but the initial PB downscaling and benchmarking has been possible using available data, and is an informative exercise for both policy implementation and future research


Link to centre authors: Cornell, Sarah, Häyhä, Tiina
Publication info: Häyhä, T., Cornell, S.E., Hoff, H., Lucas, P., van Vuuren, D., 2018. Operationalizing the concept of a safe operating space at the EU level – first steps and explorations. Stockholm Resilience Centre Technical Report, prepared in collaboration with Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.


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