Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 823–835 | Cite as

Planetary boundaries: at the threshold… again: sustainable development ideas and politics

  • Fred P. SaundersEmail author


The implications of the planetary boundaries (PBs) proposal involves scientific, moral and political dimensions. The core of the PBs idea is that humankind is transgressing global environmental tipping points resulting in changed conditions that threaten to unravel human progress. The growing status of the proposal potentially makes it a highly influential organising concept that seems to contain within it aspirations to dramatically reconstitute the relationship between society and the environment—thereby transforming the politics of sustainable development. This paper situates PBs in contemporary green thinking. Key planning events and related documents supporting the Post-2015 Development Agenda process are then examined to identify strategies and reactions to the PB proposal. The findings show that divisions reminiscent of older North/South environment and development tensions related to the role of experts, democracy and the Right to Development threaten to prevent PBs from being mainstreamed in key UN environment and development programmes and fora.


Planetary boundaries Sustainable development Limits to Growth 



I would like to acknowledge the generous contributions to the development of this paper by my Södertörn University colleagues; particularly those by Associate Professor Sara Sjöling, Lise-Lotte Hallman, Dr. Jonas Bylund and Professor Kari Lehtilä. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and considered feedback on earlier versions of this work. That said, I take full responsibility for the content of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental StudiesSödertörn UniversityHuddinge, StockholmSweden

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