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The planetary boundaries framework as proposed by Rockström et al. (2009) provides guidelines for defining thresholds in environmental variables. Their transgression is likely to result in a shift in Earth system functioning away from the relatively stable Holocene state. As the climate change boundary is already transgressed, several climate engineering methods are discussed, aiming at a reduction of atmospheric carbon concentrations to control the Earth's energy balance. Terrestrial carbon dioxide removal (tCDR) via afforestation or bioenergy production with carbon capture and storage are part of most climate change mitigation scenarios that limit global warming to less than 2 °C.
We analyse the co-evolutionary interaction of societal interventions via tCDR and the natural dynamics of the Earth's carbon cycle. Applying a conceptual modelling framework, we analyse how societal monitoring and management of atmospheric CO2 concentrations with the aim of staying within a "safe" level of global warming might influence the state of the Earth system with respect to other carbon-related planetary boundaries.
Within the scope of our approach, we show that societal management of atmospheric carbon via tCDR can lead to a transgression of the planetary boundaries of land system change and ocean acidification. Our analysis indicates that the opportunities to remain in a desirable region within carbon-related planetary boundaries depend critically on the sensitivity and strength of the tCDR management system, as well as underlying emission pathways. While tCDR has the potential to ensure the Earth system's persistence within a carbon safe operating space under low emission pathways, this potential decreases rapidly for medium to high emission pathways.