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Sustainability 2015, 7(8), 11285-11305; doi:10.3390/su70811285

The Environmental Sustainability of Nations: Benchmarking the Carbon, Water and Land Footprints against Allocated Planetary Boundaries

1
Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University, P.O. Box 9518, Leiden 2300RA, The Netherlands
2
School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University, Yuhangtang Road 688, Hangzhou 310058, China
3
Department of Econometrics and Operations Research, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam 1081HV, The Netherlands
4
Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, Stevinweg 1, Delft 2628CN, The Netherlands
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Ashok K. Chapagain and Guoping Zhang
Received: 18 May 2015 / Revised: 10 August 2015 / Accepted: 12 August 2015 / Published: 19 August 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water Footprints and Sustainable Water Allocation)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [1699 KB, uploaded 19 August 2015]   |  

Abstract

Growing scientific evidence for the indispensable role of environmental sustainability in sustainable development calls for appropriate frameworks and indicators for environmental sustainability assessment (ESA). In this paper, we operationalize and update the footprint-boundary ESA framework, with a particular focus on its methodological and application extensions to the national level. By using the latest datasets available, the planetary boundaries for carbon emissions, water use and land use are allocated to 28 selected countries in comparison to the corresponding environmental footprints. The environmental sustainability ratio (ESR)—an internationally comparable indicator representing the sustainability gap between contemporary anthropogenic interference and critical capacity thresholds—allows one to map the reserve or transgression of the nation-specific environmental boundaries. While the geographical distribution of the three ESRs varies across nations, in general, the worldwide unsustainability of carbon emissions is largely driven by economic development, while resource endowments play a more central role in explaining national performance on water and land use. The main value added of this paper is to provide concrete evidence of the usefulness of the proposed framework in allocating overall responsibility for environmental sustainability to sub-global scales and in informing policy makers about the need to prevent the planet’s environment from tipping into an undesirable state. View Full-Text
Keywords: environmental sustainability assessment; environmental footprints; planetary boundaries; sustainability gap; environmental sustainability ratio; nations environmental sustainability assessment; environmental footprints; planetary boundaries; sustainability gap; environmental sustainability ratio; nations
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Fang, K.; Heijungs, R.; Duan, Z.; de Snoo, G.R. The Environmental Sustainability of Nations: Benchmarking the Carbon, Water and Land Footprints against Allocated Planetary Boundaries. Sustainability 2015, 7, 11285-11305.

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