The planetary boundaries concept was formulated in 2009 by an international research group led by Johan Rockström, and revised in 2015 by Will Steffen and colleagues. The concept emerged against the background of the Anthropocene – a period of time associated with rapidly growing environmental pressures, and increasing degradation and scarcity of global environmental resources, which intensifies risks for the stability and functioning of the Earth system.

The human burden on the global environment and ecosystems has reached a level where sudden non-linear systemic changes can no longer be ruled out. The UFOPLAN project “Planetary Boundaries – Challenges for Science, Civil Society and Politics” addresses the challenge of operationalizing the planetary boundaries concept.

The project analyses the requirements that the concept places on politics, science, civil society and business, with the aim of informing the political implementation of the concept. In addition to cross-sectional papers that deal with topics of significance for various political processes (e.g., the potential for environmental communication, risks associated with transgressing boundaries and a methodology for operationalization), political focus topics were addressed.

The political focus topics address questions of how the planetary boundaries concept can be applied to specific environmental policymaking areas (e.g., the formulation of a national nitrogen strategy and the Integrated Environmental Programme 2030). Important next steps for the operationalization of the concept include the stronger inclusion of planetary boundaries in sustainability strategies and a reorientation of science funding toward the integrated development of the concept.