This paper applies the planetary boundaries framework to Europe. It quantifies the impacts of European consumption patterns within Europe (internal footprints) and outside Europe (external footprints, as caused by consumption of imported products). For all boundaries considered, Europe’s total (internal plus external) per capita footprints are higher than the global average, and also exceed the allowable per capita footprints if the planetary boundaries were equally allocated among the 7 billion inhabitants of planet Earth. The external footprints are often larger than the internal footprints. The evidence of growing externalization of Europe’s environmental footprints, or export of environmental problems, provides important guidance for sustainable production and consumption as well as for more coherent European environmental, trade, economic and other policies.

The study finds that the existing planetary boundaries need to be further integrated with context-specific information in order to formulate local environmental sustainability boundaries.

An earlier version of this paper was prepared for the European Environment Agency (EEA), as input to stakeholder workshops in preparation of Europe’s State of the Environment Report (SOER) 2015, and as a background paper for the new EU Environment Action Programme.

Download the working paper (PDF, 1.2MB)

About SEI Working Papers:
The SEI working paper series aims to expand and accelerate the availability of our research, stimulate discussion, and elicit feedback. SEI working papers are work in progress and typically contain preliminary research, analysis, findings, and recommendations.
Many SEI working papers are drafts that will be subsequently revised for a refereed journal or book. Other papers share timely and innovative knowledge that we consider valuable and policy-relevant, but which may not be intended for later publication.