This website has been designed to let you visualise and compare the environmental and social performance of nations relative to a “safe and just” development space. The purpose is to foster a public discussion about the meaning of a “good life” and what it could look like in a world that lives within planetary boundaries. This discussion is vital – and urgent – because no country currently meets basic needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. On this page, you can find information on the scientific research behind the website, the authors of the work, and other related information.

The Research

The methods and results underpinning the data used on this website have been peer-reviewed and are published in the following scientific journal article:

  • O’Neill, D.W., Fanning, A.L., Lamb, W.F., and Steinberger, J.K. (2018). A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability 1, 88-95. doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0021-4.

Please cite this article if using the results from the website or if you would like to download and use the data.

Who We Are

This website is the result of a collaboration between the following individuals and institutions:

The data visualisations were created by Andrew Fanning and William Lamb, with web application support from Peter Edwards at the University of Leeds. The interview with Giorgos Kallis was kindly filmed and edited by Amalia Cardenas. Funding was generously provided by the Leeds Social Sciences Institute Impact Acceleration Account in association with the ESRC, and with additional in-kind contributions from each of the participating institutions listed above.

A Safe and Just Space

Our analysis adopts the “safe and just space” framework created by Kate Raworth. This framework combines the concept of planetary boundaries, originally proposed by Johan Rockström and colleagues, with the complementary concept of social boundaries. There are nine planetary boundaries related to critical Earth-system processes which jointly define the safe space that humanity should stay within to maintain the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene period. However, remaining within planetary boundaries is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for sustainability. Human well-being must also be maintained, and it requires resources. The safe and just space framework therefore argues that development should occur within a doughnut-shaped space where resource use is above the level required to meet people’s basic needs, but below the level that carries a substantial risk of crossing the nine planetary boundaries.

Safe and Just Space framework

Source: Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist

Biophysical Boundaries and Social Thresholds

We have downscaled five planetary boundary indicators (climate change, phosphorus loading, nitrogen loading, freshwater use, and land-use change) to per capita equivalents, and compared these to consumption-based environmental indicators (i.e. footprints) at the national scale. In addition to these, we have included two separate footprint indicators (ecological footprint and material footprint) and compared these to their suggested maximum sustainable levels. The result is seven biophysical indicators in comparison to their respective boundaries (Table 1). The per capita boundaries assume a global population of seven billion people. All seven indicators are consumption-based measures that account for international trade.

Table 1: Biophysical Indicators and Boundaries

Biophysical Indicator Per Capita Boundary Description
CO2 Emissions 1.61 t CO2 per year Consumption-based allocation of CO2 emissions from energy and cement production
Phosphorus 0.89 kg P per year Consumption-based allocation of phosphorus from applied fertilizer
Nitrogen 8.9 kg N per year Consumption-based allocation of nitrogen from applied fertilizer
Blue Water 574 m3 per year Consumption and pollution of blue water in the domestic water supply, plus virtual-water imports, minus virtual-water exports
Land-Use Change 2.62 t C per year Consumption-based allocation of the human appropriation of net primary production (eHANPP) embodied in final biomass products
Ecological Footprint 1.72 gha per year Biologically productive land and sea area needed to produce the biotic resources that a country uses, and to assimilate its CO2 emissions
Material Footprint 7.2 t per year Consumption-based allocation of used raw material extraction (minerals, fossil fuels, and biomass)

To assess social outcomes, we have used a set of eleven social indicators that are common to studies following the safe and just space framework, and the social objectives contained in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For each of these indicators we have identified a threshold value consistent with a “good life” for a nation’s citizens (Table 2). Although the choice of the social thresholds is undoubtedly subjective, we believe each constitutes a reasonable assessment of a level of performance consistent with meeting basic needs. See the scientific journal article for more information, including a full discussion of the biophysical and social indicators, data sources, and analytic framework. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.

Table 2: Social Indicators and Thresholds

Social Indicator Threshold Description
Life Satisfaction 6.5 on 0-10 scale National average of responses to the Gallup World Poll’s Cantril life ladder question
Healthy Life Expectancy 65 healthy life years Number of years that an individual is expected to live in good health (without major debilitating disease or infirmity)
Nutrition 2700 kcal per capita Average calorific intake of food and drink per day
Sanitation 95% of the population Percentage of the population with access to improved sanitation facilities
Income 95% of the population Percentage of the population living on more than $1.90 a day
Access to Energy 95% of the population Percentage of the population with access to electricity
Education 95% enrolment Gross enrolment in secondary school (i.e. the ratio of total enrolment, regardless of age, to the population that are of secondary-school age)
Social Support 90% of the population National average of responses to the question “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?”
Democratic Quality 0.8 on -2.5 to 2.5 scale Average of two Worldwide Governance Indicators: voice and accountability, and political stability
Equality 70 on 0-100 scale 1 minus the Gini coefficient of household disposable income (i.e. after taxes and transfers), multiplied by 100
Employment 94% employed Percentage of the labour force that is employed

Related Resources

Oxfam logo Oxfam provides humanitarian aid, promotes sustainable development, and advocates for change on behalf of the world’s poorest. In 2012, it published a discussion paper entitled A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can We Live Within the Doughnut?, while in 2015 it published The UK Doughnut: A Framework for Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice.
Doughnut Economics cover Kate Raworth has written about and presented the concept of “doughnut economics” and its implications to a wide range of audiences, in the context of many different debates.
Lili project image The Living Well Within Limits (LiLi) project is a 5-year Leverhulme Research Leadership Grant awarded to Julia Steinberger at the University of Leeds. It addresses crucial but understudied questions on the links between resource use and well-being.