As we move into the next century, we stand at a very unique point in human history. The abuse which human civlization has heaped upon the planet in the name of survival has upended the natural balances within the ecosystem. To restore these balances, we must identify all the dangerous tipping points, prioritize them, and began a program of immediately retracting from them and keeping ourselves at a safe distance.

As the fundamental  principle dictates, we must live and keep our economy within the safe limits of ecology. The new society we build must price goods and services transparently so that we the price of natural capital is considered in the final cost. Already, signs of this more transparent pricing is beginning to appear in reports such as the landmark TEEB  Natural Capital at Risk: The top 100 Externalities of Business study as well as the Carbon Tracker Unburnable Carbon study which places a price on all future carbon reserves, exposing a huge carbon bubble risk to investors around the globe. Institutional investors are beginning to recognize the risk, they are aware that there’s no feasible way to keep under the 2 Deg. C temperature rise above pre-industrial if these future reserves are even partially exploited. The fossil fuel divestment campaign has begun.

Planetary Boundaries Humanity must Stay Within

A promising paradigm to guide all future human development is the Planetary Boundary concept that was developed by a group of 29 leading scientists led by Dr. Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Center.

In Sept 24, 2009, a group of 29 Earth Systems Scientists headed by Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre published an article in Nature entitled: “A safe operating space for humanity“. This article, which summarized years of work attempted to define, for the first time ever, safe boundaries of human activity for a number of critical environmental areas.


climate change nitrogen & phospherous cycle freshwater use land use biodiversity loss aerosol loading chemical pollution Image Map

Figure 1: a) The original nine planetary boundaries – click on each boundary in the above image map for more information (Source: Rockstrom et. al, 2009) b) Updated boundaries

The boundaries are interlinked and the authors suggest we have already overstepped three of them:

  1. atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
  2. biodiversity loss
  3. the nitrogen cycle

and we are close to the boundaries of a further three:

  1. land use,
  2. fresh water use
  3. ocean acidification

 Oxfam’s Doughnut

Oxfam took the Planetary Boundary model and developed the Doughnut model of human development on top of it. This model ties Ecology with Economy and asserts that human development should all fall well within the planetary boundaries. Hence, we must develop in such a way that our ecological footprint is comfortably in check and never exceeding any of the planetary limits which can place human civilization at risk.

Kate Raworth, Senior Researcher at Oxfam Great Britain introduces her discussion paper “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: can we live within the doughnut?”

Kate Raworth of Oxfam, gives a Global Challenges guest lecture on how humanity can occupy a safe and just space that remains within planetary boundaries. Feb, 2013

Oxfam’s Kate Raworth:  The Oxfam Doughnut model: a new framework that allows Economy to co-exist with Ecology

UN Human Development Report

The UN Human Developmnent Report (HDR) is a groundbreaking study that contains a wealth of information on human development that is both sustainable and equitable from all countries from around the world.

Figure 1: Introduction to the UN Human Development Report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

This following interactive infographic graphically displays information from the HDR and allows the user to see how sustainability is inter-related to development by plotting different performance factors on different axis.

Figure 2: Sustainability and human development. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

In the figure below, the interactive graphic has a suite of tools to help you uncover the information you’re interested in. You can map the data, create reports for specific countries, see how quickly the world is progressing, and more. The tool begins with general summaries to quickly give you a feel for the broader picture, but it then allows you to drill down into great specificity with the data.

Figure 3: Main indicators from UN HDR report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive. For best performance, please use Google Chrome or Firefox; Internet Explorer is not supported at this time.

Some of the world’s most pressing problems can be traced to inequity between people, both in the present and over time. Long periods of inequity can lead to both social and environmental degradation. In its 2011 Human Development Report (HDR), the United Nations incisively examines some of the complex relationships between socioeconomic equity and environmental sustainability. This visualization shown in the figure below, created by members of the MIT Media Lab and The DuKode Studio, organizes some of the HDR’s summative indicators into network graphs to show how nations are multi-dimensionally linked.

Figure 4: Network linkages between countries from UN HDR report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

Human Development Index

Figure 5: HDI interactive graphic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

Voice of the Vulnerable

Alexander Muresan created the following interactive infographic to represent data gathered from interviews of the vulnerable. In her words:

In the – Country’s Economy vs Meeting your Household Needs – graphs, I showed also the relationships between those answers. This might give us a clue of the relevance of the answers, because those who answered that the economy is much worse but they do better at their household might have a reason not related to the global crises for doing better, or were too subjective.

The part about – Relevant things that people talk about – tries to capture the pulse of the surveyed people about dealing with the household problems and about their quality of life (I chose to treat these to questions together as the answers completed each other in very many cases, the quality of life is also explored further in the graphs below this section). Many answers contained information about more than one issue, therefore they were included in many circles.
The whole graph is not a breakdown of what % of the population thinks or does, it’s actually more similar to a word cloud, it’s an issue cloud. Also, I have included some issues that appeared only few times but I believe some of them are relevant and may give important clues about what the majority talked about, but didn’t mentioned it.

A special case it’s Ukraine, where about 2 thirds mentioned the word “Change” with different attitudes, (from No change, to a change is highly needed, a change is visible) and many more talked about it with other words. Only few said “A change of power” or a “Change of government”, “Justice for the people”, although few, I believe they are very relevant and give “Change” a political meaning besides the economical one.

In order to make the wordclouds about the future, I had grouped together similar words (like change and changing), treated as an expression groups of few words that had a meaning like that, and regarding the answers that were phrases with many words, I had included them in the one word that summed up best the phrase (not necessary written in the phrase, but had the meaning of the phrase). For example, in India, many people told what profession they want to have in future, I grouped them as “profession” so that their plans about careers would show up in the cloud.

Figure 6: Voice of the Vulnerable interactive infographic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive. This visualization can be navigated via the vertical arrows (or vertical scroll) to view at first an overview of all the countries and then each country, one by one, OR, via the horizontal arrows (or horizontal scroll) to view a certain issue in all of the countries

Figure 7: The relationship between ustainability and equity interactive graphic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

ODI Development Report: Climate Change must be Addressed to achieve Zero Poverty Goal

cover zero poverty...think again
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report Zero Poverty…Think Again finds that climate change will have wide-ranging consequences on development and poverty reduction. The working paper looks at the impacts of climate change on eight development goal areas, and shows that it is essential for climate change to be addressed in order not to compromise development efforts.

Executive Summary

Poverty eradication will be difficult, if not impossible, if climate change is not tackled. The current efforts to formulate new sustainable development goals post-2015 are unlikely to end in success if climate change and shocks are not confronted in unison. With the 5th IPCC report recently confirming just how certain we are of climate change, this paper reviews the impacts it may have on global development and eradicating poverty. It uses the lens of climate impacts on potential new development objectives, which will become the building blocks of global development action. In order to do this, we examine literature projecting impacts of climate change on a set of potential goal areas, determined from growing consensus about what the goals should look like and the quality of evidence.

Climate change is a reality, and given that it is so interwoven with both economic performance and sustainable development, the world can achieve much better results by taking climate change explicitly into account in the formulation of some of the development goals and targets.

The exercise shows that climate change will have wide-ranging consequences on development and poverty reduction. Climate change will not only impact areas directly affected by the climate system, such as food production or the availability of water, but will also have broader impacts on issues perhaps considered to be distinct from the climate, such as gender equality and education provision.

The impact of climate change on food, for example, could result in more people at risk of hunger in vulnerable groups and countries. With 2° to 3°C warming, between 30 and 200 million people will be at risk of hunger; with an over 3°C warming, this number rises to 250 to 550 million people (Stern, 2007), mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia. The scale of potential impacts and the interactions between the goal areas can be seen in Table 1. In 2015, world leaders will have a chance to agree on new goals that will set a path towards sustainable development if climate change is integrated. The international processes dealing with climate, disasters and development – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the post-2015 debate – are currently taking place separately. So even if climate change is one of the main factors affecting the success of achieving various development goals, it is not yet a given that it needs to be explicitly and fully reflected in the post-2015 agreement.

It can be argued that it would be enough to take climate change into account during implementation of efforts to achieve each goal. However, if climate change is not explicitly considered in goals and targets, it is likely that resources will be misdirected; programme action will be inefficient; conflicting and counterproductive actions will be put in place; and finally gains in development could be cancelled, and even reversed.

There is an excessive risk and cost to development if it is not addressed (Stern, 2007). We therefore believe it is imperative to include climate change fully in the formulation and targets\ of development goals, however complex this may be.