Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to ensure that every person has the resources they need to meet their human rights, while collectively we live within the ecological means of this one planet. The ‘doughnut’ of planetary and social boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge. The 11 dimensions of the social foundation are illustrative and are based on governments’ priorities for Rio+20. The nine dimensions of the environmental ceiling are based on the planetary boundaries set out by Rockström et al (2009b)
Would eradicating poverty put planetary boundaries under stress? No. Available data imply that the social foundation could be achieved for every person alive today with strikingly few additional resources:
Food: Providing the additional calories needed by the 13 per cent of the world’s population facing hunger would require just 1 per cent of the current global food supply.
Energy: Bringing electricity to the 19 per cent of the world’s population who currently lack it could be achieved with less than a 1 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions.
Income: Ending income poverty for the 21 per cent of the global population who live on less than $1.25 a day would require just 0.2 per cent of global income.
In fact, the biggest source of planetary-boundary stress today is excessive resource consumption by roughly the wealthiest 10 per cent of the world’s population, and the production patterns of the companies producing the goods and services that they buy:
Carbon: Around 50 per cent of global carbon emissions are generated by just 11 per cent of people;
Income: 57 per cent of global income is in the hands of just 10 per cent of people;
Nitrogen: 33 per cent of the world’s sustainable nitrogen budget is used to produce meat for people in the EU – just 7 per cent of the world’s population.
Adding to the pressure created by the world’s wealthiest consumers is a growing global ‘middle class’, aspiring to emulate today’s high-income lifestyles. By 2030, global demand for water is expected to rise by 30 per cent, and demand for food and energy both by 50 per cent. In addition, the inefficiency with which natural resources are currently used to meet human needs – for example through wasted food, leaky irrigation, and fuel inefficient vehicles – further compounds the pressure.
The Brundtland Commission’s 1987 report, Our Common Future, paved the way for far-reaching international commitments, set out in the 1992 Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. But these commitments have not been
followed through, and today environmental, social, and economic concerns are too often handled in parallel by separate government ministries, championed by separate NGOs, and debated by separate journalists in the media. However the rising global challenges of climate change, financial crises, food price volatility, and commodity price increases may finally be forcing the international community to recognize that these issues are unavoidably interconnected and must be tackled together.