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Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries

Bruce M. Campbell, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), c/o University of Copenhagen
Douglas J. Beare, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), c/o University of Copenhagen
Elena M. Bennett, McGill School of Environment and Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
Jason M. Hall-Spencer, Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, University of Plymouth, UK; Shimoda Marine Research Centre, University of Tsukuba, Japan
John S. I. Ingram, Food Systems Research Programme, Environmental Change Institute, The University of Oxford, UK
Fernando Jaramillo, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden; Department of Physical Geography and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, Sweden.
Rodomiro Ortiz, Department of Plant Breeding, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
Navin Ramankutty, UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, University of British Columbia
Jeffrey A. Sayer, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, College of Marine & Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
Drew Shindell, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA


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We explore the role of agriculture in destabilizing the Earth system at the planetary scale, through examining nine planetary boundaries, or “safe limits”: land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows, biosphere integrity, climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, and introduction of novel entities. Two planetary boundaries have been fully transgressed, i.e., are at high risk, biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows, and agriculture has been the major driver of the transgression. Three are in a zone of uncertainty i.e., at increasing risk, with agriculture the major driver of two of those, land-system change and freshwater use, and a significant contributor to the third, climate change. Agriculture is also a significant or major contributor to change for many of those planetary boundaries still in the safe zone. To reduce the role of agriculture in transgressing planetary boundaries, many interventions will be needed, including those in broader food systems.

Key words

aerosol loading; biogeochemical flows; biosphere integrity; chemical pollution; climate change; diversity; freshwater; land-system change; nitrogen; ocean acidification; ozone depletion; phosphorous

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087