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.
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