Staying within planetary boundaries as a premise for sustainability: On the responsibility to address counteracting sustainable development goals
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionEtikk i praksis. 2020, 14 (1), 29-44. 10.5324/eip.v14i1.2863
Sustainable development, as explained through the three pillars of environment, society and economy, is a well-known concept and has been used extensively in recent decades. There is finally a growing acknowledgement that environmental sustainability is the prerequisite for achieving the other two pillars of societal and economic sustainability. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to not explicate the negative interactions between the pillars of sustainability, as in the interlinkages between the UN’s sustainable development goals. In this paper, we draw attention to a method for explicating both reinforcing and counteracting goals. This is a conceptual paper but with short, illustrative examples from different levels of the R&D sphere on how this method can be used: one example is at the project level, two are from financiers of R&D projects, and the other is at the UN level. Finally, a longer discussion on relevant ethical guidelines is presented. This paper addresses the responsibility to recognize when and how sustainability goals counteract each other through two key actions. The first action is to identify transgressions of global ecological system boundaries and the resulting serious consequences for trading on environmental sustainability. The second involves bringing to the fore relevant ethical guidelines from the Norwegian National Research Ethics Committee. An update of these guidelines is suggested to reflect recent research on the transgression of planetary boundaries and the consequences for a safe operating space for humans on Earth.