Earth outside the ‘safe operating space’ for humans: Report

The human-caused effect on Earth is pushing it beyond "human operating space".

The human-caused effect on Earth is pushing it beyond "human operating space". Photo: AAP

New research has established the extent of human-caused damage to the environment, suggesting that Earth is now outside the safe operating space for our species.

Johan Rockstrom, co-author of the report and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the findings “clearly depict a patient that is unwell, as pressure on the planet increases and vital boundaries are being breached”.

“We don’t know how long we can keep transgressing these key boundaries before combined pressures lead to irreversible change and harm,” he said.

“Science and the world at large are really concerned over all the extreme climate events hitting societies across the planet as we move through the third human-amplified El Niño in only 25 years.”

These boundaries represent the parts of the global environment that regulate the Earth’s stability and liveability for humanity.

Fresh water change, land system change, biosphere integrity, climate change, novel entities and bio-geochemical flows have breached the safe operating space, while ocean acidification is approaching surpassing acceptable levels, the report finds.

Only atmospheric aerosol loading and stratospheric ozone depletion remain at stable levels, because of global collaborative efforts to address holes in the ozone layer in the 1990s.

The report comes as conditions in 2023 highlight not just the future risk of climate change, but the threat facing humanity here and now.

Storms, cyclones and tornadoes

The United States and surrounding countries have faced numerous storm and tornado events, starting with California receiving between 400 and 600 per cent of its typical rainfall between Christmas 2022 and mid-January 2023.

Tropical Storm Hilary

A flooded street in Palm Desert, California, during Tropical Storm Hilary. Photo: AAP

California wasn’t the only area of the US hit by extreme weather, with 1028 tornadoes in the first six months of the year.

In Myanmar and Bangladesh, Cyclone Mocha made landfall on May 14. One of the strongest storms ever recorded in the region, with winds reaching over 215km/h, it killed at least 145 people.

Cyclone Mocha

Damage from Cyclone Mocha in western Myanmar. Photo: AAP


Canadian wildfires began in March 2023, with all 13 provinces in the country affected.

The fires burned the most amount of area ever recorded in North American history, surpassing the 2020 wildfire season in California and the western US.

The catastrophic wildfires laid waste to much of British Columbia. Photo: AAP


In mid-July, multiple states across America experienced flooding at extreme levels.

The state of Vermont experienced two months worth of rain across several days, where flooding destroyed homes, businesses, cars, roads and bridges.

China’s summer saw unprecedented flooding throughout monsoon season, where typhoons and intense rainfall engulfed 16 cities.

Flooding and storms in northern China resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being displaced. Photo: AP

The country experienced 60 per cent of a typical year’s rain in 83 hours, and at the start of September, another typhoon resulted in 880,000 people being evacuated.


The effects of this month’s earthquake in Morocco haven’t yet been quantified, but at the time of writing at least 2946 people have been killed and 1404 have been injured.

The WHO says more than 300,000 people have been affected by the earthquake that struck Morocco. Photo: AP

It was the strongest earthquake the country ever recorded, resulting in widespread damage while also being felt in nearby Spain, Portugal and Algeria.

Research has suggested a changing climate can influence events like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The solutions

According to experts, society needs to undergo a dramatic transformation and stop its heavy reliance on fossil fuels if there is any chance of mitigating the effects of climate change.

Although Australia has taken steps towards reducing carbon emissions, the country isn’t even on track to achieve the meagre targets set by the Albanese government.

Worldwide carbon emissions grew in 2022 by 0.9 per cent, reaching an all-time high.

The science is clear: Without drastic action to reduce emissions, the Earth is barrelling towards a future at least 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which will result in ecological collapse, heatwaves, rising sea levels, increased risk of bushfires, an impact on human health and increased natural disasters.

Solutions like reforestation and regenerative agriculture may increase the amount of carbon stored in vegetation, removing carbon dioxide in the process, but this will not solve the climate crisis facing the Earth.

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