Linking planetary boundaries and ecosystem accounting, with an illustration for the Colombian Orinoco river basin

Leonardo Vargas (Corresponding Author), Louise Willemen, Lars Hein

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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Economic development has increased pressures on natural resources during the last decades. The concept of planetary boundaries has been developed to propose limits on human activities based on earth processes and ecological thresholds. However, this concept was not developed to downscale planetary boundaries to sub-global level. The absence of boundaries at sub-global levels constrains the use of the concept in environmental governance and natural resource management, because decisions are typically taken at these levels. Decisions at the national level are currently supported, among others, by statistical frameworks in particular the System of National Accounts. However, statistical frameworks were not developed to compile environmental information, hindering environmental decision making. Our study examines if and how ecosystem accounting can be used in combination with the concept of planetary boundaries in guiding human activities at the level of a river basin. We assess the applicability of both frameworks for natural resource management in the Orinoco river basin, based on adaptive management components. Our analysis indicates that differences in the purpose of analysis, information provided, and methods constrain the potential integration of both frameworks. Nevertheless, the way both frameworks conceptualize the social system and the interactions between social and ecological systems can facilitate translating planetary boundaries into indicators considered in ecosystem accounting. The information recorded in national ecosystem accounts can support establishing ecological thresholds and, more fundamentally, to relate ecological thresholds to human impacts on ecosystem condition. Capitalizing on these synergies requires further exchange of experiences between the communities working on ecosystem accounting and planetary boundaries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1521-1534
Number of pages14
JournalRegional environmental change
Issue number5
Early online date12 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


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