Previous research has shown that no country currently meets the basic needs of its residents at a level of resource use that could be sustainably extended to all people globally. Using the doughnut-shaped ‘safe and just space’ framework, we analyse the historical dynamics of 11 social indicators and 6 biophysical indicators across more than 140 countries from 1992 to 2015. We find that countries tend to transgress biophysical boundaries faster than they achieve social thresholds. The number of countries overshooting biophysical boundaries increased over the period from 32–55% to 50–66%, depending on the indicator. At the same time, the number of countries achieving social thresholds increased for five social indicators (in particular life expectancy and educational enrolment), decreased for two indicators (social support and equality) and showed little change for the remaining four indicators. We also calculate ‘business-as-usual’ projections to 2050, which suggest deep transformations are needed to safeguard human and planetary health. Current trends will only deepen the ecological crisis while failing to eliminate social shortfalls.
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The data produced in the analysis are included in the Supplementary Information accompanying this article. The data are also available via an interactive website (https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk), which allows users to query the dataset, generate visualizations and produce doughnut plots similar to Fig. 5 for all countries.
The R code used to generate the results is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
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We are grateful to K. Raworth, J. K. Steinberger and M. Wackernagel for their kind reviews and constructive comments on earlier drafts. A.L.F. was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 752358. N.R. was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 765408. This research was further supported by funding from Research England’s QR Strategic Priorities Fund and an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Luca Coscieme, Kai Fang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended Data Fig. 1 Average number of biophysical boundaries respected and social thresholds achieved per country (1992–2015).
Average values are calculated from the sample of countries with data for all six biophysical indicators, and at least 9 of the 10 social indicators that span the analysis period (N = 91). Ideally, countries would achieve all social thresholds while respecting all biophysical boundaries, as indicated by the “Safe and Just Space” line at the top of the figure.
Supplementary Discussion and Tables 1 and 2.
This spreadsheet contains the country-level data for the 6 biophysical and 11 social indicators generated in our analysis. The data include historical observations (1992–2015), and business-as-usual (BAU) projections (2016–2050) with 66% upper and lower confidence intervals.
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Fanning, A.L., O’Neill, D.W., Hickel, J. et al. The social shortfall and ecological overshoot of nations. Nat Sustain 5, 26–36 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00799-z
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