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Meeting human needs within planetary boundaries – a provisioning systems perspective on clean transitions

Beginning during the industrial revolution and then rapidly accelerating since the end of the Second World War, human civilization has undergone a massive transformation and transition with profound implications not just for humans but for the planet more broadly. While this development has enabled great improvements in living conditions for billions, it has come at the cost of massive overexploitation of natural resources.

Olle Olsson, Elena Dawkins / Published on 18 May 2022
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Olsson, O. and Dawkins, E. (2022). Meeting human needs within planetary boundaries – a provisioning systems perspective on clean transitions. Stockholm+50 background paper series. Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.

The key challenge for the global community moving forward is thus how to meet human needs and continue to improve human welfare without transgressing the boundaries of sustainable use of natural resources. In other words, transition into keeping within what has been called the sustainability corridor. 

Staying within this corridor can be achieved through different means, including changing which natural resources are used – such as going from fossil fuel to renewable energy – or changing human needs – by reducing excessive consumption. Central to any changes is also the configuration and set-up of the actual structures that link human needs with use of natural resources. These provisioning systems include not only the physical infrastructure and machinery that enable extraction, processing and transport of natural resources into products and services that meet human needs but institutional and social systems as well. 

In this paper, Olsson and Dawkins draw upon the provisioning systems framework to illuminate and better understand the central characteristics of different sustainability challenges, pros and cons of corresponding solutions and why particular policy actions that are effective in one context are completely infeasible in another. The authors focus particularly on issues related to climate change mitigation and apply the provisioning systems framework to two examples. The first looks at how one particular human need (charging a cellphone) can be met through two provisioning systems (grid electricity and a portable solar panel) that have almost nothing in common. The second example concerns the same basic problem (greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions and mobility) but with different modes of transport (air and road). 

This paper is part of a series that supports the Stockholm+50: Unlocking a better future report.


Download the background paper / PDF / 768 KB

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