A decade on, IGBP in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre has reassessed and updated the Great Acceleration indicators, first published in the IGBP synthesis, Global Change and the Earth System in 2004.
Human activity, predominantly the global economic system, is now the prime driver of change in the Earth System (the sum of our planet’s interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes), according to a set of 24 global indicators, or “planetary dashboard”, published in the journal Anthropocene Review (16 January 2015).
The research charts the “Great Acceleration” in human activity from the start of the industrial revolution in 1750 to 2010, and the subsequent changes in the Earth System – greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation and biodiversity deterioration.
“It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force,” says lead author Professor Will Steffen, who led the joint project between the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Twelve indicators depict human activity, for example, economic growth (GDP), population, foreign direct investment, energy consumption, telecommunications, transportation and water use. Twelve indicators show changes in major environmental components of the Earth System, for example, the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and biodiversity. This new “planetary dashboard” highlights how the trajectories of Earth and human development are now lightly bound. The findings will be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 21-24 January.
“When we first aggregated these datasets, we expected to see major changes but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that around 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration,” said Professor Steffen, a researcher at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
“After 1950 you can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes largely related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet,” he added.
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The Latest on: Planetary dashboard
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