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Resolving the Disconnect Between Earth-System Science, Management Theory, and Environmental Accounting

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Abstract

The opportunity to use the Planetary Boundaries to inform policy, behaviour, and environmental management has been highlighted by several authors. There have been several adaptations of the Planetary Boundaries: some connecting them to environmental assessment systems and others adapting them to form the basis of national or regional environmental accounts.

However, the Planetary Boundaries were not designed to be scaled or to be related to human activity. They were intended as indicators of the scale and urgency of the problem, not as a guide to resolving it. This is apparent in the adaptations, each of which has limitations pertaining to the metrics used, limits selected, further scalability, relatability to human activity, or comparability to other adaptations.

Insights derived from environmental accounting theories can be used to understand and resolve the disconnect between the Planetary Boundaries and the management of environmental impacts. The European Environment Agency Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework shows how different environmental indicators can be categorised. For indicators to scale and relate easily to human activity, the pressure category of indicators is required. The planetary boundary indicators are not of a uniform category. Some are pressures; however, most are states or impacts. State and impact indicators are not easy to scale or to relate to human activity.

In order to connect environmental accounting practices with the Planetary Boundaries in a way that enables a poly-scalar approach to Earth-system management, we have identified the need to translate the boundaries into a uniform set of pressure indicators; to enable the expansion of the concepts of carbon accounting and science-based targets accross all of the Planetary Boundaries. This is the basis of Planetary Accounting.

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.

Isaac Newton

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Meyer, K., Newman, P. (2020). Resolving the Disconnect Between Earth-System Science, Management Theory, and Environmental Accounting. In: Planetary Accounting. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1443-2_6

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