One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is how the world's poorest countries can develop in a way that is environmentally sustainable and just. Richard Bailey of Oxford's School of Geography and Environment and INET Oxford's Sustainability Programme and colleagues recently applied the "planetary boundaries” concept, with the addition of social well-being indicators, to create a framework for “safe and just” inclusive sustainable development, integrating environmental and social-development issues. The chief aim of this framework is to influence public policy, which happens principally at the national level, and they use South Africa as the case study. The result is a ‘barometer’ which presents the state and trajectory of key indicators, highlighting the country’s proximity to safe environmental limits and progress on the eradication of social deprivation. This acts as both a monitoring and communication tool for national government, and highlights priorities for information gathering in data-poor contexts. The barometer shows that achieving inclusive sustainable development in South Africa requires national and global action on multiple fronts, and careful consideration of the interplay between different environmental domains and development strategies.

The paper is available on the Early Edition section of the PNAS website.

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Full reference: Tracking sustainable development with a national barometer for South Africa using a downscaled “safe and just space” framework. Megan J. Cole, Richard M. Bailey, and Mark G. New. PNAS 2014 ; published ahead of print October 7, 2014,