• Course Code:  PB

  • Term:  September 2016

  • Open for Enrollment

  • Self-paced

  • Course Author(s)
    Johan Rockström
Pb coursecard

DUMMY - Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities

September 2016

  • Sdg academy website announcment
    The SDG Academy Team
  • Photo
    Hirokazu Yoshikawa


“Planetary boundaries and human opportunities” gives students an overview of a range of emerging concepts within sustainability science, like the Anthropocene, planetary boundaries, and resilience. These concepts are at the core of contemporary research and debate on global sustainability. They are key to frame and understand rapidly changing trends in global environmental change caused by humans, and to assess responses that aim at reversing global environmental change. They also help exploring pathways for ensuring safe and just human wellbeing for present and future generations.

A thriving global society, now and in the future, depends on the stable functioning of the Earth System and its resilience – including the atmosphere, oceans, forests, waterways, biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles. Unfortunately, scientific evidence indicates that human influence has altered Earth System processes to a point that we have begun transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, potentially propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. In this new situation, unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. The fundamental question is how our societies can develop in a just and safe way within the planet’s boundaries.

This course aims at expanding and updating participant’s ‘conceptual toolbox’ in matters of global sustainability. Upon successful completion, a participant will be able to demonstrate a clear understanding of key concepts on global environmental change and their theoretical underpinning, as well as an up-to-date understanding of current debates in the global sustainability arena and emerging examples of approaches and solutions currently being developed.

Throughout the course, Professor Rockström and his colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre will hold live Google hangouts to answer your questions about the course and sustainable development issues, in addition to discussion forums where you can engage with fellow students and course staff. The course is also rich in activities that will illustrate the application of these concepts, connecting global and local contexts.

The success of the course depends on an active student base representing a diversity of experiences, geographies, and perspectives, so add your voice to the global discussion by registering today.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction and the Big Picture

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: The Big Picture

Week 2: Welcome to the Anthropocene

  • Chapter 1: The Holocene and the Anthropocene
  • Chapter 2: Visions of the Anthropocene 

Week 3: Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience thinking

  • Chapter 1: Social-Ecological Resilience
  • Chapter 2: Understanding Complexity in a Turbulent World

Week 4: Planetary Boundaries Framework – Part 1

  • Chapter 1: A New Framework for Human Development
  • Chapter 2: The Big Three Boundaries: Processes with Global Scale Tipping Points 

Week 5: Planetary Boundaries Framework – Part 2

  • Chapter 1: The Four Slow Boundaries
  • Chapter 2: Human-made Planetary Boundaries Processes 

Week 6: Planetary Boundaries and Global Equity

  • Chapter 1: Natural Resources and Interactions Between Boundaries
  • Chapter 2: A Safe and Just Operating Space for Humanity 

Week 7: Moving towards Global Sustainability within Biophysical and Social Boundaries

  • Chapter 1: Global Governance
  • Chapter 2: Promising Pathways to Success

Week 8: Conclusion

  • Chapter 1: Science in the Anthropocene and the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Chapter 2: Conclusions

About the Instructors

Johan Rockström, Lead Instructor

Johan Rockström is a Professor in Environmental Science with emphasis on water resources and global sustainability at Stockholm University and the Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre. He is an internationally recognized scientist on global sustainability issues, where he led the recent development of the new Planetary Boundaries framework for human development in the current era of rapid global change.


He is a leading scientist on global water resources, and strategies to build resilience in water scarce regions of the world, with more than 15 years experience from applied water research in tropical regions, and more than 100 research publications in fields ranging from applied land and water management to global sustainability.


Sarah Cornell, Instructor

Sarah Cornell is the research coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries research group at the SRC, and a co-convenor of the international Planetary Boundaries Research Network. Both of these initiatives take a transdisciplinary approach and link insights from Earth system science and social-ecological resilience, to better characterise the complex issues of global sustainability. 


Sarah’s research background is in marine and atmospheric biogeochemistry, but like many global change scientists, she has a very interdisciplinary research trajectory. She has worked on integrated environmental assessment, risk management, sustainability governance, and the philosophy of science. Her current research focuses on conceptualisations of humans in the Earth system. Her main interests are in obtaining a multidimensional understanding of anthropogenic global changes and what they mean for people.


Garry Peterson, Instructor

Garry Peterson is a Professor in Environmental Sciences with focus on resilience in social-ecological systems and head of the PhD programme in Sustainability Science at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, at Stockholm University.  He co-leads a research project on social-ecological dynamics of ecosystem services in the Stockholm region, contributes to IPBES, and contributed to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  He is co-leader of the regime shifts research theme at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (regimeshifts.org). 


Garry Peterson has an interdisciplinary background and his research has consistently combined theoretical development with applied practical work. His current research focusses on how interactions among people and nature produce diverse benefits for people, or ecosystem services, and how social-ecological systems can abruptly reorganize. He is also currently working on identifying how alternative social-ecological trajectories that could lead towards 'good' futures for people in the Anthropocene can be identified and compared.      


Carl Folke, Instructor

Carl Folke, professor, is the founder and Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Carl has contributed to the development of new research areas, interdisciplinary arenas, and concepts that have spread in science, policy and practice. He works with interdisciplinary and integrative science for sustainability with a focus on social-ecological systems, resilience thinking, and ecological economics, emphasizing that people are embedded parts of the biosphere and at the same time shaping it from local to global levels, and how to adaptively govern and manage for resilience and transformation in social-ecological systems.   


Carl has produced over 250 scientific papers (16 in Science and Nature) and 13 books, including Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience (with F. Berkes) Cambridge 1998, Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change (with F. Berkes and J. Colding) Cambridge 2003, and Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World (with Chapin, F.S, III, and G.P. Kofinas) Springer Verlag 2009. He serves as advisor to international research institutes, has a long record of science and policy collaboration, and more recently collaboration between science and the business community.   


Lisa Deutsch, Course Director and Instructor

Dr. Lisa Deutsch is a Senior Lecturer and the Director of Studies at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Lisa is responsible for the innovative activities and study programs that focus on developing the next generation of resilience and sustainability scientists. She also teaches at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels.


Lisa's research examines the couplings between the ecological effects of globalization of food production systems and national policy and economic accounts. She particularly focuses on the impacts of global trade on food systems. She also works on the challenge of tracing and mapping food flows to cities to explore how cities feed themselves. Her work contributes to the development of a set of complementary tools that can be used to understand global food flows and the dependence of cities and nations on services from ecosystems globally.


Kevin Noone, Instructor

Kevin Noone is Professor of Meteorology at the Department of Applied Environmental Science at Stockholm University. He was the founding Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences (SSEESS) at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences from 2010-2014, and has been affiliated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre. From 2004-2008 he was the Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). He has a background in Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Oceanography, Meteorology, and Atmospheric Physics. He has been on the faculty at both Stockholm University in Sweden and the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.


His early research work in Chemical Engineering focused on transparent semiconductors for use as solar cells. His primary research interests at present are in the areas of sustainability science, atmospheric chemistry & physics, the effects of aerosols and clouds on air quality and the Earth's climate, and Earth System science. He is an advocate of using holistic approaches to obtaining a solid scientific basis for decisions on environmental and climate issues. He is author/coauthor of more than 120 scientific articles, two books and 10 book chapters. 


Victor Galaz, Instructor

Victor Galaz is an Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in political science, and is currently working as a researcher and co-theme leader for Global and Cross-Scale Dynamics at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and as Acting Executive Director for the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


His current research interests are in global environmental governance, planetary boundaries, emerging technologies and emerging political conflicts associated with the notion of the Anthropocene. His work has been featured in international media such as Wired, The Guardian, New Scientist and Nature. He is a regular contributor in the Swedish public and policy debate about environmental policy and emerging technologies. Victor is also the author of "Global Environmental Governance, Technology and Politics - The Anthropocene Gap" (Edward Elgar, 2014).


Thomas Elmqvist, Instructor


Thomas Elmqvist, PhD, is a professor in Natural Resource Management at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University. His research is focused on ecosystem services, land use change, urbanization, natural disturbances and components of resilience including the role of social institutions. He serves as associated editor for the journals Ecology and Society, Ecosystem services, and Sustainability Science. He has led the “Cities and Biodiversity project” (www.cbobook.org) and currently leading a Future Earth project “What is Urban” and part of the scoping expert group on regional and sub-regional assessments in IPBES.

One Last Thing!

Check your email inbox and click on the email verification link we just sent you.

If it doesn’t reach your inbox in a few moments, it might be in your spam folder. Don’t forget to add our email address to your contacts if it did end up in spam! That’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

As soon as you’ve verified your email, you’ll be able to continue.



Confirm Payment

Payment Unavailable. Try again later.

DUMMY - Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities


Credit Card