TIPPING POINTS AND PLANETARY BOUNDARIES - OPERATIONALISING AT THE EU SCALE

  Satellite image of toxic algal blooms in Baltic Sea (Source: NASA)

Satellite image of toxic algal blooms in Baltic Sea (Source: NASA)

CEP was commissioned by EEA in 2015 (European Environment Agency) to provide technical support in relation to tipping points in ecosystems with a focus on well-established European case studies, and to support work to operationalize “planetary boundary type approaches” with a focus on the boundaries for biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows.  External partners from Stockholm Resilience Centre and University of Copenhagen were involved providing expertise on how to operationalize ‘planetary boundary type approaches’ in a European context.

The novel concept of planetary boundaries has introduced the idea that sustainable development can only take place within the safe operating space identified by the biophysical realities of critical natural thresholds that people need to respect and keep within.  Tipping points, on the other hand, represent critical thresholds that divide the desirable and undesirable regimes in social-ecological systems.  These two concepts have increasingly gained recognition in relation to their relevance for decision makers for considering ecological limits at all scales. 

The overall aim of the project was to better understand the existing approaches on tipping points and planetary boundaries at the EU (regional) and Member State (national) scales in order to support efforts to integrate such concepts into governance and decision-making.

The work involved writing up of six well-evidenced case studies of local/regional regime shifts and existing tipping points across Europe including “Lake Maggiore Eutrophication”, “Coastal eutrophication of Baltic Sea” and “Irrigation practices leading to saline soils in Guadalentin valley, Spain” among others.  CEP also provided a background review paper of existing scientific knowledge and data on “planetary boundary type approaches” and existing and relevant policy approaches. Its aim was to support EEA in its developing work to explore the implications of planetary boundaries concepts for EU policy making and draw conclusions in relation to the main challenges posed.  Finally, the paper presented suggestions for further research and analysis in the context of EU policy making.

For further information contact Collingwood Environmental Planning's Dr Bill Sheate (Technical Director) w.sheate@cep.co.uk or Rolands Sadauskis (Senior Consultant) r.sadauskis@cep.co.uk