Governing for a safe and just future with science-based targets: opportunities and limitations

Lauren Gifford, Diana Liverman, Joyeeta Gupta, Lisa Jacobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reflects on the work of the Earth Commission and the Global Commons Alliance to include climate and environmental justice in establishing biophysical targets to stabilize the Earth system. Targets include those for global temperature (e.g. 1.5°C), biodiversity (e.g. % protected or natural land), surface and groundwater and nutrient pollution (e.g. phosphorus load). We discuss whether and how to define Earth system justice in relation to planetary targets and related levers of transformation, how we identify measures of what is just, and reflect on whether target setting itself is a neoliberal process. We examine how science can identify targets that subsequently inform policies that may inadvertently increase, rather than decrease, inequalities, such as those associated with neoliberal policies of commodification, privatization, top-down conservation and globalization. Can the operationalization of targets enable deep transformations needed to stabilize the Earth system and ensure just access for all, or will they be used for business as usual? We draw on collaborations with members of the social science working group of the Earth Commission to focus not only on possibilities for just targets but on radical transformations for a safe and just planet where harm is minimized and access to wellbeing is possible for all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalClimate and Development
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • earth system boundaries
  • earth system governance
  • justice
  • neoliberalism
  • target setting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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