What Project Managers Need to Know About Planetary Boundaries and Biodiversity Regeneration

As project managers, it’s essential to understand the broader context of our projects—including the environment and its associated ecosystems. You may have heard of planetary boundaries, nine specific thresholds that must not be crossed for humanity to continue on a safe trajectory. Of those nine boundaries, biodiversity regeneration is one of the most critical. Let’s dive into what this means and how it affects project management.

What Are Planetary Boundaries?

The concept of planetary boundaries was introduced in 2009 by a group of scientists who wanted to identify limits to human activity based on environmental factors. The researchers identified nine thresholds that should not be exceeded if humanity is to remain on a safe path.

These include climate change, ocean acidification, land-system change, freshwater use, ozone depletion, chemical pollution (such as fertilizers), aerosol loading (tiny particles suspended in air), and nitrogen/phosphorus cycles (which govern nutrient availability). In addition to these physical factors, what’s often referred to as “the tenth boundary” is biodiversity—or the diversity of species within an ecosystem.

Why is Biodiversity Regeneration So Important?

Biodiversity is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems; when species disappear or become threatened due to human activity such as overfishing or deforestation, entire food webs can collapse. This has devastating consequences both for the environment itself and for humanity’s ability to rely on natural resources like fish populations or clean drinking water. That’s why biodiversity regeneration is so critical; we need to be actively restoring species populations in order to maintain balance within our ecosystems and ensure that they will continue supporting us into the future.

What is a simple example? the Atlantic Ocean Current that has been in the news the last few weeks is a great one.

A system of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation that transports heat northward across the North Atlantic could collapse by mid-century!

In the latest research, Peter and Susanne Ditlevsen, Danish researchers, examined North Atlantic sea surface temperatures from 1870 to 2020 as a proxy for assessing circulation patterns. Their findings indicate that the system’s potential collapse could take place between 2025 and 2095, depending on current global greenhouse gas emissions. This contrasts with the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s 2021 prediction, which suggested that such a collapse was not probable during this century.

The degradation of the AMOC is particularly relevant to the first and second planetary boundaries, i.e., Climate Change and Loss of Biodiversity.

  1. Loss of Biodiversity: The AMOC influences the distribution of marine species and the productivity of marine ecosystems, particularly in the North Atlantic region. If the AMOC weakens significantly, it can disrupt marine habitats, migration patterns, and food chains, potentially leading to a loss of biodiversity and threatening numerous species that rely on the stability of these ecosystems.
  2. Climate Change: The AMOC plays a crucial role in redistributing heat around the globe, helping to regulate regional and global climates. As it weakens or collapses, the redistribution of heat can be altered, leading to potential disruptions in weather patterns and more extreme climate events. The AMOC’s degradation can contribute to accelerated climate change and an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, pushing us closer to exceeding the safe boundary for CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Here is an image of the current.  As you can see without the red North Atlantic Current, Europe would be thrown into an ice age.

How Does This Affect our Profession?

As project managers responsible for implementing initiatives of all shapes and sizes, it’s important that you understand how your projects interact with the environment around them. If you are managing a project that impacts local flora or fauna—for example, developing a new factory complex near a sensitive wetland habitat—you need to take steps to ensure that these species remain protected throughout your construction process and afterwards. This could involve conducting ecological surveys before beginning work or setting up an ongoing monitoring program after completion of your project in order to identify any changes that might occur as a result of your work. By taking proactive steps like these, you can help ensure that local biodiversity remains healthy during and after your projects.

When it comes down it, respecting the nine planetary boundaries is critical if humanity is going to remain on a safe trajectory; this includes taking steps towards biodiversity regeneration whenever possible. As project managers responsible for large-scale operations with potential impacts on local ecosystems, it’s important to be aware of this responsibility and take action accordingly. By understanding how our activities affect wildlife populations and making sure we take steps towards restoring them wherever possible, we can help ensure sustainable development for years into the future!

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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