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Journal of Environmental Accounting and Management
António Mendes Lopes (editor), Jiazhong Zhang(editor)
António Mendes Lopes (editor)

University of Porto, Portugal


Jiazhong Zhang (editor)

School of Energy and Power Engineering, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province 710049, China

Fax: +86 29 82668723 Email:

The Tenth Planetary Boundary To What Extent Energy Constraints Matter

Journal of Environmental Accounting and Management 4(4) (2016) 399--411 | DOI:10.5890/JEAM.2016.12.004

Marco Casazza$^{1}$, Gengyuan Liu$^{2}$,$^{3}$, Sergio Ulgiati$^{1}$,$^{2}$,$^{3}$

$^{1}$ University of Naples “Parthenope”, Department of Science and Technology, Centro Direzionale, Isola C4, 80143, Naples, Italy

$^{2}$ State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China

$^{3}$ Beijing Engineering Research Center for Watershed Environmental Restoration & Integrated Ecological Regulation, Beijing 100875, China

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This paper introduces the energy constraints as the tenth existing Planetary Boundary (PB hereafter) for defining a safe operating space for humanity on Earth. Energy limitations, in fact, follow all the technical requirements, that are applied to all the existing PBs. After discussing about the specific power both of some planetary components and of some elements of the biosphere, the evolution of human civilization is discussed, considering its additive specific power. This is done in order to show the existing power shift originated by the industrialization and, subsequently, within the Anthropocene. The historical trend of Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) for human civilization, expressed in terms of power and measured in units of [W], follow within the discussion. Consequently, both a lower preliminary limit (identified with the preindustrial TPES, according to the PB framework), and an upper threshold are identified. The latter is related to the total appropriation of the Net Primary Production (NPP). Finally, the foreseen TPES for the year 2050 is discussed under three different scenarios. Different “quality” goals are defined, according to different existing low-carbon scenarios, which are related to a sufficiency perspective for humanity. Such a transition is of paramount importance since it will enable humanity to remain into a safe operating space within the biosphere. While the paths to reach such an objective go beyond the scope of this paper, it is anyway remarked that both a socio-economic transition and policy efforts are necessary in order to involve the population by means of well-planned bottom-up actions.


The authors are greatly indebted with prof. Luigi Sertorio (University of Torino, Italy) for the inspiring comments to the present manuscript and earlier conversations about planetary energetics. Sergio Ulgiati gratefully acknowledges the financial support received from the European Union Project EUFORIE - European Futures for Energy Efficiency, funded under H2020-EU.3.3.6. - Robust decision making and public engagement. Ulgiati also acknowledges the contract by the School of Environment, Beijing Normal University within the framework of the National Programme “One Thousand Foreign Experts Plan”. Gengyuan Liu is supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No. 2016YFC0503005), the Fund for Innovative Research Group of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51421065), the Projects of Sino-America International Cooperation and Exchanges of NSFC (No. 51661125010); Sergio Ulgiati, Marco Casazza and Gengyuan Liu are also supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41471466, 71673029).


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