Chapter

The Need for an Integrated Assessment Framework to Account for Humanity's Pressure on the Earth System

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Abstract

The challenge of accounting for our impact on the Earth System has been addressed in the last three decades by an intensive social and scientific search for concepts, regulations, methodologies and techniques. Such search has been based on indicators, which helped us improve our understanding of the state of the planet. We live in a technological era: we have never had so many information systems, so much knowledge, so many and strong legal protections, international environmental agreements and yet evidence suggests that we have never damaged the planet so much. Setting sustainability targets requires the identification of minimum thresholds – beyond which human impact on the Earth system is unsustainable – and the adoption of a systemic approach reflecting the complex interactions that characterize the Earth and the human systems. In this chapter we discuss the need for building an integrated assessment framework to assess human pressure on the Earth System and its implications. Building on the existing literature, we propose a set of principles to guide the integration of a new assessment framework into a new legal order thus creating a system of incentives to approach, preserve and/or restore our common intangible heritage.

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... Since the 1992 Rio Summitcalling for "indicators that show us if we are creating a more sustainable world" in chapter 40 of Agenda 21 (UN, 1992)many indicators, indices, and dashboards have been produced (e.g., Hak et al., 2016;Pulselli et al., 2016;Singh et al., 2012), stimulating political, academic, scientific, and community debates on the best way to assess and operationalize sustainable development at various territorial scales (Hezri and Dovers, 2006;Galli, 2015;Moreno Pires, 2014). Despite a 'spreading indicator culture' (see Pulselli et al., 2016;Riley, 2001), consensus on how to measure sustainable development has yet to be achieved (e.g. ...
... Since the 1992 Rio Summitcalling for "indicators that show us if we are creating a more sustainable world" in chapter 40 of Agenda 21 (UN, 1992)many indicators, indices, and dashboards have been produced (e.g., Hak et al., 2016;Pulselli et al., 2016;Singh et al., 2012), stimulating political, academic, scientific, and community debates on the best way to assess and operationalize sustainable development at various territorial scales (Hezri and Dovers, 2006;Galli, 2015;Moreno Pires, 2014). Despite a 'spreading indicator culture' (see Pulselli et al., 2016;Riley, 2001), consensus on how to measure sustainable development has yet to be achieved (e.g. UNECE et al., 2008;Lawn, 2006;Stiglitz et al., 2009), and the debate on appropriate sustainable development metrics has been recently re-ignited by the IEAG-SDGs identification of a global SDG indicator framework (Sachs, 2012;SDSN, 2015;Wackernagel et al., 2017) and by the introduction of the planetary boundaries framework (Steffen et al., 2015). ...
... Despite the SDG effort, the lack of systems thinking in most societal attempts to articulate and measure sustainable development has been increasingly highlighted in recent years (e.g., Broman et al., 2017;Costanza et al., 2014a,b;Fiksel, 2012;Galli, 2015;Pulselli et al., 2016;Quandt, 2016;Steffen et al., 2015). This is likely because although systemic knowledge of the functioning of Earth's physical systems is needed from a scientific viewpoint (Steffen et al., 2015), policy decisions are ultimately taken and implemented at national and local levels (with the exception of a few international agreements) (see Dahl, 2012;Fidélis and Moreno Pires, 2009;Pulselli et al., 2016) and usually structured around society's sectors. ...
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... With a global population now exceeding 7.6 billion people and estimated to reach over 11 billion by 2100 [1], humanity consumes significantly more resources than our planet can provide in the long term, and our patterns of consumption and the waste we produce cannot be absorbed by the world's natural systems. In short, our use of natural resources is stretching beyond regenerative capacities [2][3][4][5], or even more succinctly, the world has reached planetary limits [6]. ...
... should be a balance between protection and utilization in any successful national park, so that it can offer both development opportunities and effective protection" [81]. 5 The national park system also aims to be a showcase for "ecological civilization", the government's vision for a sustainable relationship with the environment [82,83]. ...
... Ultimately, it was decided that a national park model of conservation-with its dual mandate-was the most appropriate form to adopt for addressing both the ecological significance (and need for protection) and human development interests in the region. 5 Both national parks and natures reserves are legal entities in China. Development of the national parks system aims to centralize and "rationalize" the planning and management of nationally prioritized areas. ...
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... This approach has led to significant debate over the interrelationship (Wilson & Wu, 2017) that sustainability requires among environmental, social, and economic demands (Hou et al., 2014), complemented by core institutional objectives (Spangenberg, 2002). Pulselli et al. (2016) for instance, argue that sustainability is the opportunity to talk about humankind and to study the relations between humans and their context (physical, environmental, social, economic, political, urban, juridical, etc.). As already argued by Odum in 1977, sustainability implies a holistic approach in "the sense of seeking to understand large components as functional wholes" (Odum, 1977). ...
... As already argued by Odum in 1977, sustainability implies a holistic approach in "the sense of seeking to understand large components as functional wholes" (Odum, 1977). Pulselli et al. (2016) argue that it is the opportunity to raise critical questions such as: ...
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Chapter
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... The pursuit of sustainability has been recognized as the challenge of current time [8] as far as in the last three decades the need to sustainably manage Earth's resources has grown among decision makers around the World [9]. In parallel, the social and scientific research of concepts, tools, and methodologies that are able to track impact of mankind on the Planet have also arisen [10]. ...
... The phenomenon of growing number and application of sustainability indicators has been recognized as "spreading indicator culture" [10,11]. However, the decision making process should be guided by a set of sustainability indicators that are able to represent the complexity of the Earth paying special attention in some case? ...
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... In the past 30 years, the science of sustainability has emerged as a prominent field to address the challenges that arise from human-nature interactions [1][2][3][4][5]. At its core, the science of sustainability is a "solution-oriented discipline that studies the complex relationship between nature and humankind", which implies a "holistic approach, able to capitalize and integrate sectoral knowledge as well as a variety of epistemic and normative stances and methodologies towards the definition of solutions" [2]. ...
... Agenda 21 (Chapter 40) of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio [6] called for improved quality and availability of sustainability data for decision making. The need for relevant and reliable data to measure sustainability launched the development of hundreds of indicators with the intent of driving policy and assessing progress toward sustainability [4]. ...
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Ecological Footprint accounting quantifies the supply and demand of Earth's biocapacity. The National Footprint Accounts (NFA) are the most widely used Ecological Footprint (EF) dataset, and provide results for most countries and the world from 1961 to 2014, based primarily on publicly available UN datasets. Here, we review the evolution of the NFA, describe and quantify the effects of improvements that have been implemented into the accounts since the 2012 edition, and review the latest global trends. Comparing results over six editions of NFAs, we find that time-series trends in world results remain stable, and that the world Ecological Footprint for the latest common year (2008) has increased six percent after four major accounting improvements and more than thirty minor improvements. The latest results from the NFA 2018 Edition for the year 2014 indicate that humanity's Ecological Footprint is 1.7 Earths, and that global ecological overshoot continues to grow. While improved management practices and increased agricultural yields have assisted in a steady increase of Earth's biocapacity since 1961, humanity's Ecological Footprint continues to increase at a faster pace than global biocapacity, particularly in Asia, where the total and per capita Ecological Footprint are increasing faster than all other regions.
... In the past 30 years, the science of sustainability has emerged as a prominent field to address the challenges that arise from human-nature interactions [1][2][3][4][5]. At its core, the science of sustainability is a "solution-oriented discipline that studies the complex relationship between nature and humankind", which implies a "holistic approach, able to capitalize and integrate sectoral knowledge as well as a variety of epistemic and normative stances and methodologies towards the definition of solutions" [2]. ...
... Agenda 21 (Chapter 40) of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio [6] called for improved quality and availability of sustainability data for decision making. The need for relevant and reliable data to measure sustainability launched the development of hundreds of indicators with the intent of driving policy and assessing progress toward sustainability [4]. ...
Article
The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool that measures the amount of the Earth's regenerative capacity (or ‘biocapacity’) demanded by a given activity. Many human activities place demands on the planet's capacity, including the provision and processing of food, the construction and maintenance of housing, transportation, and the consumption of goods and services. Since these demands compete for biologically productive space, both demand on and availability of regenerative capacity can be approximated by adding up the mutually exclusive biologically productive areas for providing these services. By comparing the amount of capacity demanded with the amount of capacity available each year, Ecological Footprint accounting can measure the extent to which human demands on the biosphere exceed the biosphere's capacity to meet those demands. Globally, human society is currently operating in a state of overshoot, with the global Footprint exceeding global biocapacity by over 50% in 2011. This overshoot depletes the natural capital on which human society depends – reducing stocks and filling up waste sinks. Levels of Ecological Footprint and biocapacity vary widely between regions and nations.
... Sustainability is a multidisciplinary issue, with no single statistic capable of addressing its entire complexity 8 . To address this, decision-makers must sift through a plethora of data, information and indicators 9 . In order to attain sustainability, the use of sustainability indicators is becoming increasingly important 10 . ...
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19. Sneeuw, N. et al., One year of time-variable CHAMP-only gravity field models using kinematic orbits. In. 20. Chander, S. and Majumdar, T. J., Comparison of SARAL and Ja-son-1/2 altimetry-derived geoids for geophysical exploration over the Indian offshore. Geocarto Int., 2015, 31(2), 18; http:// dx.
... Sustainability is a multidisciplinary issue, with no single statistic capable of addressing its entire complexity 8 . To address this, decision-makers must sift through a plethora of data, information and indicators 9 . In order to attain sustainability, the use of sustainability indicators is becoming increasingly important 10 . ...
... In conclusione, possiamo mettere in evidenza tre punti chiave operativi (Pulselli et al., 2016) che caratterizzano i fondamenti del concetto di sostenibilità: a) Cosa deve essere sostenibile? L'oggetto è tutto il sistema e non una singola parte. ...
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Obiettivo 15_Nanotecnologie e ambiente: nuove soluzioni sostenibili ed ecocompatibili
... Sustainability is a trans-disciplinary issue with no single metric able to address its full complexity alone (Galli et al., 2012;Sala, Ciuffo, & Nijkamp, 2015). To deal with this challenge, decision makers must navigate through a wealth of diverse information, data and indicators (Pulselli, Moreno Pires, & Galli, 2016), whose interpretation might be difficult. Quantitatively assessing and monitoring each dimension of sustainability (e.g., the environmental pillar) is a challenge that municipalities face, in Portugal and elsewhere. ...
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The unsustainable use of our planet's resources needs to be tackled from different angles and multiple levels of governance. As the human population urbanizes, having access to reliable, cross-cutting, quantitative city-level sustainability metrics is key to understanding the environmental impacts of urban dwellers and the role cities can play in the 21st century sustainability challenge. Framing the environmental pillar of urban sustainability with an overarching metric like the Ecological Footprint informs stakeholders and citizens about a city's overall pressure on the biosphere. In Portugal, six cities established a pioneering collaborative project to guide their transition to sustainability and support city governance; this paper presents the results of the first phase of the project. We tracked annual demand for natural resources and ecological services by the city residents and compared it against the "carrying capacity" of the cities' ecological assets. We then assessed the ability of this new data to increase local environmental awareness and support local public policies in Portugal and elsewhere. Lessons from this study inform the ongoing debate on the Ecological Footprint's usefulness as sustainability metric for cities, and point to specific policy insights for managing key consumption sectors and reaching key targets such as the UN SDGs.
... In these cases, to optimize the immediate functionality of a very complicated and variegated set of measures ("a dashboard of indicators, " see Ciommi et al., 2017), a selection of dimensions or indicators is necessary. This selection must however follow a logic rationale or model in order to combine informative power of the selected indicators and computation feasibility or data availability, after identifying the context in which the evaluation must be made (e.g., sustainability, well-being, etc.: for an overview of indicator-based approaches, see Pulselli et al., 2016). ...
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... Over the last two decades, many indicators and tools have been proposed by different actors (Moreno Pires, 2014) to help society better understand the environmental consequences of their activities. This has been referred to as the "spreading indicator culture" (e.g., Pulselli et al., 2016;Riley, 2001). While the primary goal of most of these indicators has been to inform and support policy making, some have also gained public attention due to their immediateness and the simplicity of their message. ...
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Global increases in population, consumption, and gross domestic product raise concerns about the sustainability of the current and future use of natural resources. The human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) provides a useful measure of human intervention into the biosphere. The productive capacity of land is appropriated by harvesting or burning biomass and by converting natural ecosystems to managed lands with lower productivity. This work analyzes trends in HANPP from 1910 to 2005 and finds that although human population has grown fourfold and economic output 17-fold, global HANPP has only doubled. Despite this increase in efficiency, HANPP has still risen from 6.9 Gt of carbon per y in 1910 to 14.8 GtC/y in 2005, i.e., from 13% to 25% of the net primary production of potential vegetation. Biomass harvested per capita and year has slightly declined despite growth in consumption because of a decline in reliance on bioenergy and higher conversion efficiencies of primary biomass to products. The rise in efficiency is overwhelmingly due to increased crop yields, albeit frequently associated with substantial ecological costs, such as fossil energy inputs, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss. If humans can maintain the past trend lines in efficiency gains, we estimate that HANPP might only grow to 27-29% by 2050, but providing large amounts of bioenergy could increase global HANPP to 44%. This result calls for caution in refocusing the energy economy on land-based resources and for strategies that foster the continuation of increases in land-use efficiency without excessively increasing ecological costs of intensification.
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'This book presents a comprehensive collection of essays from some of the world's leading experts, surveying and highlighting both the potential and the limitations of a number of indicators specifically designed to measure sustainable development. Illustrative applications are presented throughout in order to demonstrate the value of the approaches discussed. This book is highly recommended for all those who are interested in a better understanding of what sustainable development is and its likely associated indicators, and ultimately aims to contribute to a better foundation for public decision-making.' - Paulo A.L.D. Nunes, Venice International University, Cà Foscari University, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, Venice, Italy and Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, national governments have introduced a range of policy measures designed to steer their economies along a more sustainable path. Yet how are we to know how successful these have been? This significant new book discusses the ways in which sustainable development indicators can be improved in order to both assess the impact of past policies and avoid the repetition of previous failings.
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Policymakers often have difficulty assessing the overall state of the environment. Indices are a way of combining a wide range of environmental data, but they can only be as good as the data base used in their formulation. There are still many areas in which data collection is quite inadequate to group national trends in environmental quality. Aspects of the relationship between monitoring and indices are explored.
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This paper assesses the implementation and use of sustainability indicators (SI) in local governance contexts in Portugal. The need to analyse the development of local SI is considered critical, given the lack of research on the understanding of how, when and by whom SI are implemented and used, particularly in the Portuguese local governance context. The first aim of this article is to map experiences of SI in Portugal by assessing how many local councils developed indicator systems and when, and the major driving-forces and general features of those systems. The second aim is to analyse and compare 7 case studies, in further detail, to explore the governance factors that influence indicator success and how indicators are used within local contexts. Two particular conceptual frameworks were applied to structure research and analysis. Based on a national survey and case study methodology, findings reveal that local SI in Portugal are still in early stages of development. Where SI have been designed earlier, there has been a lack of political commitment and vision, and a need to overcome local government malfunctioning more than the complex obstacles of sustainable development governance. Applying both conceptual frameworks enabled to present critical lessons on the relationship among governance factors and types of uses when implementing SI in Portugal and to suggest the value of this integrated analysis for other governance contexts.
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In October 2010, world leaders gathered in Nagoya, Japan, for the CBD COP10 and agreed on the adoption of new biodiversity targets and new indicators for the period 2011-2020. This represents a positive development. But given the previous failure in achieving the 2010 biodiversity targets, new approaches to implementation as well as relevant measuring and monitoring systems are needed, for this renewed effort to have lasting success in preserving biodiversity. The need to adopt a comprehensive approach in monitoring biodiversity clearly emerged and it can be seen in the five strategic goals within which the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity targets are classified. Among them, is the strategic goal A, which aims to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society. The aim of this paper is to describe the role of the Ecological Footprint in tracking human-induced pressures on biodiversity thus providing a synthesis of how the Ecological Footprint tool can contribute to the advancement of conservation science. Information is provided on the main features of the Footprint indicator and its dataset, the ongoing work to improve the methodology as well as the geographical (more than 150 countries covered) and temporal coverage (a period of almost five decades) of the Ecological Footprint accounting tool.
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In a world faced with accelerating climate change, economic instability and resource limits, it is urgent to find better indicators of progress towards sustainability. The available indicators mostly succeed at measuring unsustainable trends that can be targeted by management action, but fall short of defining or ensuring sustainability. A recent review of environmental assessment and reporting at the national level for the United Nations Environment Programme shows about half of reporting countries to be using indicators and provides some lessons learned. However indicators at the national level are not sufficient. The challenges ahead include finding indicators of change in dynamic systems, establishing sustainability targets towards which national progress can be measured, developing global level indicators of planetary sustainability, and providing individuals with indicators reflecting their own progress and providing positive incentives for further efforts. Finally, since achieving sustainability is fundamentally an ethical challenge, a new set of values-based indicators is required to measure and motivate the implementation of ethical principles necessary to guide the transition towards sustainability.
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All people use indicators in making day-to-day decisions. For example, in deciding on what type of clothes to wear, the cloud cover, sunlight, and outside temperature are rapidly evaluated. Even faster evaluations of numerous indicators take place when driving a car in traffic. The indicators used in daily life are selected, often not even consciously, for their known or assumed information content and its easy digestibility. The information is in many situations also implicitly assumed to have predictive power, an assumption which is rarely tested for its accuracy. Over time, with proper training and growing experience, most people manage, however, to sustain their lives based on such uncertain information flows.
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This study examines sustainability indicators using the sustainability report of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as the case study. The report is a compilation of indicators designed to assess the sustainability of natural resource management. The interviews with the users revealed, however, that the indicators have not been particularly effective in informing the actors or in affecting their behaviour. Clearly, the informative value of the indicators has been overrated and the complexity of the information transfer has been underestimated. At least partly, the difficulties were due to the obscurity of the indicator-concept itself and consequently to their improper use. First, the statistics with the objective state-of-affairs information should be distinguished from the indicators that are always related to policy discussion. In addition, the technical and communicative use of the indicators should be distinguished from each other as they have different relationship between the information, policy values and the associated activities.
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After more than a decade of sustainable development indicator promotion, indicators have not been integrated into policy-making procedures as expected. Sustainable development indicators were developed in 2000 to support Finnish policy-making, but indications of their use are minimal. In2001, a study of 41 people involved in high-level policy-making in Finland was launched, its purpose was to assess the use of indicators and the potential for increasing their use. Th e research method was qualitative interviews concerning selected themes. Evaluation research use findings were used as a framework for the results. Th e interviews revealed that the indicators were most likely to be used conceptually as learning tools and symbolically in the political debate. Direct use in decision-making was less likely. Th e politicians named the most important criteria for useful indicators as reliability, simplicity, inclusion of longer trends, and comparability to other countries and regions. In addition to the indicators’ characteristics, use is also affected by the ideology, information and the interests of the user and by the efforts of the developers to provide the indicators at a right time, to update them regularly, present them attractively and to ensure easy access to them. Th e indicator qualities, user profile and the efforts by the developer determine the type of use that prevails. Keywords:Sustainable development indicators, research use, policy-making, use of indicators
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Chapter
Due to the growing human demand for planetary resources and ecosystem services, ensuring sustainable development through the management of the planet’s ecological assets is becoming a central issue for policy and decision makers around the world. To understand the driving forces behind these demands and to find ways to reduce them while maintaining economic and societal well-being, new empirical measurements are needed, which can complement traditional analyses. One such tool could be the Ecological Footprint. Starting from a detailed review of the most up-to-date theory and practice in Ecological Footprint analyses, the rationale of the footprint methodology, its research question, as well as its accounting framework is explained. The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool that measures humanity’s demands upon the natural biosphere. It tracks the biologically productive land and water required to produce all the resources a population consumes and to sequester its wastes (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions). A detailed discussion of the role that the Ecological Footprint can have as a tool for measuring (minimum criteria for) sustainable development is provided. There are a variety of applications for the Ecological Footprint, from the individual to the global level. It is primarily used at the national level, where decision makers can extract information about their consumption patterns and availability of biocapacity. National governments and local administrations are already utilizing the Ecological Footprint; a summary of these case studies is included. Recently, the Ecological Footprint has also been extended to the level of products and businesses to assess the efficiency of production or the impacts that products and services have upon the planet; a summary of the main case studies is also provided.
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In recent years, attempts have been made to develop an integrated Footprint approach for the assessment of the environmental impacts of production and consumption. In this paper, we provide for the first time a definition of the “Footprint Family” as a suite of indicators to track human pressure on the planet and under different angles. This work has been developed under the 7th Framework Programme in the European Commission (EC) funded One Planet Economy Network: Europe (OPEN:EU) project. It builds on the premise that no single indicator per se is able to comprehensively monitor human impact on the environment, but indicators rather need to be used and interpreted jointly. A description of the research question, rationale and methodology of the Ecological, Carbon and Water Footprint is first provided. Similarities and differences among the three indicators are then highlighted to show how these indicators overlap, interact, and complement each other. The paper concludes by defining the “Footprint Family” of indicators and outlining its appropriate policy use for the European Union (EU). We believe this paper can be of high interest for both policy makers and researchers in the field of ecological indicators, as it brings clarity on most of the misconceptions and misunderstanding around Footprint indicators, their accounting frameworks, messages, and range of application.