The Land Use Futures program at Climateworks Centre has adapted the global planetary boundaries framework to Australia, outlining how the nation is tracking against its share of the boundaries and what this means for the land use sector.

The land use sector is increasingly included in calls for greater action to safeguard planetary health and social wellbeing. 

The planetary boundaries framework is one way to understand the global environmental limits in which humanity can continue to thrive by not compromising the health of the natural environment. Current assessments estimate that humanity has exceeded the safe limits for four of the nine global boundaries, signalling the need for urgent and transformative change. 

But what do these environmental limits and goals mean for Australia, and how is the land use sector contributing and affected by these limits? What does sustainability mean in practical, measurable terms for the unique context in which Australia’s land use sector operates?

This report summarises work undertaken through the Land Use Futures program to adapt the planetary boundaries to the Australian context. It outlines how Australia is tracking against its share of five of the planetary boundaries and considers how the land use sector is both contributing to and affected by environmental limits.

The report finds that Australia has transgressed national-scale limits for three planetary boundaries: biodiversity, land-system change, and nitrogen and phosphorus flows. Australia is approaching national limits for climate change and freshwater use. Australia’s land use is a key contributor to these trends, with natural systems under increasing pressure as a result of many land management practices.  

Infographic showing transgressed limits
National limits have been transgressed for biogeochemical flows, biosphere integrity and land-system change

However, the land use sector can take steps to support humanity to function within a safe operating space for planetary health. The sector itself holds many of the solutions to help tackle climate change and protect the natural environment. Leveraging these opportunities will mean the land use sector can play a key role in helping Australia and the world meet critical sustainability goals, and in doing so reduce its own high level of vulnerability to climate change and ecosystem decline.

The summary report was published in April 2022. An updated and amended version of the report was published in June 2022.