A new paper by team member Alan Randall was recently selected as the feature paper for Sustainability journal’s next issue. “Monitoring Sustainability and Targeting Interventions: Indicators, Planetary Boundaries, Benefits and Costs” examines the utility and dangers of using downscaled planetary boundaries for regional sustainability goals.
Take for example another recent Ohio State sustainability study from The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, which found that multinational companies headquartered in countries with tougher environmental policies tend to locate their polluting factories in countries with more lax regulations. Regionally, it may look like the company is an eco-champion, but lowering regional emissions in one region, while increasing them in others, does nothing to lower overall planetary emissions. For sustainability indicators like carbon emissions, the planetary boundary is critical.
In his paper, Randall notes that dividing up a planetary sustainability goal can be useful to seek lower overall abatement costs, address hot spots, and set regional abatement targets. However, the paper points out the need for carefully selecting science-based and informative sustainability indicators (for instance, using ratio-scale indicators that allow quantitative assessment and targeting). Randall also outlines the need for equity considerations in weighing the costs-benefit approach to abatement in industrialized vs. less wealthy nations.
These are issues our modeling team has grappled with in our regional sustainability indicators. We are using life cycle assessment or a sustainability accounting matrix to trace sustainability impacts of major imported goods in our model, such as fertilizers.