Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Six of 9 Planetary Boundaries breached by Humans


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Planetary Boundaries

Mains level : NA



Central Idea

  • A recent study has delivered a stark message: humanity has breached six of the nine planetary boundaries that are crucial for maintaining Earth’s stability and resilience.

What are the 9 Planetary Boundaries?

  • These boundaries encompass climate change, biosphere integrity, land system change, freshwater change, biogeochemical flows, and novel entities.
  • These findings underscore the urgent need for a thorough reassessment of our environmental impact and the imperative of global collaboration to address these critical challenges.

Understanding Planetary Boundaries

(1) Setting Safe Limits:

  • Planetary boundaries can be likened to the vital parameters in human health, such as blood pressure.
  • Just as high blood pressure elevates the risk of heart disease, exceeding planetary boundaries heightens the risk of triggering irreversible environmental changes.

(2) An Evolving Framework:

  • The planetary boundaries framework was introduced in 2009 to define the safe environmental limits within which humanity should operate.
  • To remain relevant, the framework must adapt as our understanding of Earth’s complex systems and human impacts evolves.

The Third Iteration: Assessing Environmental Risks

(1) Identifying Critical Processes:

  • Researchers examined processes within Earth’s ecosystem that have been vital for sustaining favourable conditions for humans over the past 12,000 years.
  • This era is noted for its stable and temperate planetary conditions.

(2) Evaluating Human Impact:

  • The study assessed the extent to which human activities are modifying these crucial processes.
  • Computer simulations were employed to determine the point at which human activities could trigger irreversible changes in Earth’s systems.

(3) Alarming Revelations:

  • The study found that human activities had breached safe boundaries for climate change and land system change as early as 1988.
  • The current trajectory poses a substantial risk of systemic disruption.

Boundaries Crossed and Their Consequences

(1) Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration:

  • The safe limit was set at 350 ppm; it currently stands at 417 ppm.
  • This has led to significant climate change.

(2) Land System Change:

  • The safe limit aimed to maintain 75% of the original forest cover; the current estimate is at 60%.
  • Such alterations have profound consequences for land systems.

(3) Biosphere Integrity:

  • The safe limit was fewer than 10 extinctions per million species-years; the actual rate has exceeded 100.
  • This poses a severe threat to millions of plant and animal species.

(4) Freshwater Change:

  • Boundaries have been exceeded for both blue (surface and groundwater) and green (water available for plants) water resources.
  • This has negative consequences for ecosystems.

(5) Biogeochemical Flows:

  • Safe boundaries have been surpassed for phosphorus and nitrogen flows.
  • This has alarming implications for biodiversity and water quality.

(6) Novel Entities:

  • The planetary boundary for novel entities was set at zero, and this boundary has been transgressed.
  • Risks include stratospheric ozone depletion, aerosol loading, and ocean acidification.

Way Forward: Urgent Global Collaboration

(1) Lessons from the Ozone Layer:

  • Successful global negotiations, like the Montreal Protocol, managed to restore the ozone layer to safe levels after transgression.
  • Emphasizes the importance of adhering to limits on environmental waste.

(2) Embracing a Circular Economy:

  • A circular economy, mirroring nature’s own system, is essential.
  • Transitioning towards a circular economy represents a crucial step in tackling these planetary challenges.


  • The study’s findings serve as a stark reminder of humanity’s responsibility to safeguard Earth’s delicate equilibrium.
  • Breaching planetary boundaries not only poses immediate risks but also imperils the long-term sustainability of our planet.
  • Urgent global cooperation and a commitment to respecting environmental limits are essential to avert a potentially catastrophic future.

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