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Safe and just Earth system boundaries

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  • Q&A Earth system boundaries
  • Q&A global constitution
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Q&A Earth system boundaries

  • 1. What makes the research on safe and just planetary boundaries so remarkable?

    The interdisciplinary approach. I integrate climate research with social sciences. Conventional climate science deals with safe boundaries; I add just boundaries to that. These are much stricter. When I started researching climate justice 30 years ago, I was often told that it was too normative. Fortunately, more and more people now realize how important this research area is. It affects all of us, even here in the Netherlands.

  • 2. Why is it important to not only stay within the safe boundary but also within the just boundary?

    Aside from the unfairness of those who have contributed least to the climate crisis suffering the most from its consequences, it’s time we realize that it’s also in our own interest to help the global South combat climate change. Because if we don’t include justice in addressing the climate crisis, we will all be in danger. We’ll exceed the safe boundary. That’s what my research clearly shows.

  • 3. How is it possible that a third of the people in the world still lack access to the minimum necessary basic needs?

    The current systems are designed for inequality. And for maintaining that inequality. This originated from the colonial past, the appropriation of resources, and the exploitation of humans and nature. This made rich countries richer and poor countries poorer. People in the global South produce the goods we consume here at an unfair price. The waste we produce here is then shipped back to them. In short: the global North enjoys the benefits, while the global South bears the burdens. That’s unjust. And because of exceeding the planetary boundaries, it’s also no longer sustainable.

  • 4. How do we get within the just space?

    We get within the just boundary by meeting the basic needs of all people whilst simultaneously emitting much less greenhouse gasses. And this transformation must also be fair. That’s an immense challenge. But there are several solutions.

    Firstly, we need to radically become more sustainable. This means, for example, using fewer resources. It’s also necessary to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible. And to reduce energy demand. With existing and new sustainable technologies, we can then meet the remaining energy needs.

    Additionally, we need to fairly redistribute available resources, means, and energy between the rich and poor, and the global North and South. Otherwise, there simply won’t be enough for everyone. For the global North, this means focusing more on well-being instead of profit, adopting new norms and values, and consuming less.

    Furthermore, the global North must take responsibility for the damage caused to the global South. This by paying reparations and helping the global South with energy transition and adaptation measures.

    Since most of the fossil fuels are located in developing countries, we cannot prevent them from tapping into those and worsening the climate problem. Especially because we haven’t set a good example ourselves. That’s why we need to show those countries now that we are willing to change our behavior to inspire them to change theirs. Otherwise, we’re all worse off. Additionally, the more damage we continue to cause, the more reparations the global South will demand.

Q&A global constitution

  • 1. You advocate for a global constitution, why is that necessary?

    Currently, all principles, rules, and laws are very fragmented. They’re different for each country and each sector. A more systematic approach is needed, where the same principles apply to all people, countries, and companies. Only then is an environmental and climate just world possible.

  • 6. What should be included in a global constitution according to you?

    It will contain goals, principles, rights, and responsibilities. It can build on existing national constitutions and international treaties and agreements. Like human rights, the Climate Agreements since 1992, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    In general, two things are important. 

    Firstly, that no more harm can be done to humans or nature. For example, the constitution will apply consequences for pollution and CO2 emissions. Stopping the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible is a no-brainer in this regard.

    Secondly, that all people worldwide can meet their basic needs. For this, fairly redistributing resources between rich and poor, and the global North and South is necessary. In my opinion, the constitution should be as concrete as possible: people have the right to a certain amount of water, energy, and CO2 emissions.

  • 7. What does the process towards a global constitution look like?

    The first step is to research all existing national constitutions and international treaties. What is in them and what can we adopt? Additionally, it’s important to involve scientists and citizens in the process. Then a first rough version is drafted. I’d like to work on that with my team in the coming years. Ideally, one influential country steps forward to get other UN countries on board. Countries in the global South will be enthusiastic, then the EU can join. Then the negotiations start. That could take a long time, time that we don’t have. So to accelerate the process, pressure from citizens and NGOs can help. To create support and reach the social tipping point (see earlier on the museum route), communication and marketing play an important role. Let’s get to work!

Continue to watch, listen and read


  • Short interview with Joyeeta Gupta for NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) in the context of winning the Spinoza Prize (EN subtitles) >> Link
  • Interview with Joyeeta Gupta on the importance of, and motivation for, her research on climate justice >> Link
  • Presentation by Joyeeta Gupta at the Economic World Forum in Davos >> Link
  • Program in Pakhuis de Zwijger in which Joyeeta Gupta gives a lecture about her research into safe and just earth system boundaries (from 8:57) >> Link


  • Interview for the radio program ‘BNR duurzaam’ (NL) >>


  • Nice profile and interview about a climate-just global constitution in One World (NL) >> Link
  • The groundbreaking research on safe and fair Earth system boundaries, published in Nature >> Link

The UvA profile of Joyeeta Gupta and her scientific publications >> Link

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