Living within the safe and just Earth system boundaries for blue water

Thumbnail Image
File version
Version of Record (VoR)
Stewart-Koster, Ben
Bunn, Stuart E
Green, Pamela
Ndehedehe, Christopher
Andersen, Lauren S
Armstrong McKay, David I
Bai, Xuemei
DeClerck, Fabrice
Ebi, Kristie L
Gordon, Christopher
Gupta, Joyeeta
Hasan, Syezlin
Jacobson, Lisa
Lade, Steven J
Liverman, Diana
et al.
Primary Supervisor
Other Supervisors
File type(s)

Safe and just Earth system boundaries (ESBs) for surface water and groundwater (blue water) have been defined for sustainable water management in the Anthropocene. Here we assessed whether minimum human needs could be met with surface water from within individual river basins alone and, where this is not possible, quantified how much groundwater would be required. Approximately 2.6 billion people live in river basins where groundwater is needed because they are already outside the surface water ESB or have insufficient surface water to meet human needs and the ESB. Approximately 1.4 billion people live in river basins where demand-side transformations would be required as they either exceed the surface water ESB or face a decline in groundwater recharge and cannot meet minimum needs within the ESB. A further 1.5 billion people live in river basins outside the ESB, with insufficient surface water to meet minimum needs, requiring both supply- and demand-side transformations. These results highlight the challenges and opportunities of meeting even basic human access needs to water and protecting aquatic ecosystems.

Journal Title
Nature Sustainability
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type
Degree Program
Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Item Access Status
This publication has been entered in Griffith Research Online as an advanced online version.
Access the data
Related item(s)
Environmental management
Water resources engineering
Environmental sciences
Persistent link to this record
Stewart-Koster, B; Bunn, SE; Green, P; Ndehedehe, C; Andersen, LS; Armstrong McKay, DI; Bai, X; DeClerck, F; Ebi, KL; Gordon, C; Gupta, J; Hasan, S; Jacobson, L; Lade, SJ; Liverman, D; Loriani, S; Mohamed, A; Nakicenovic, N; Obura, D; Qin, D; Rammelt, C; Rocha, JC; Rockström, J; Verburg, PH; Zimm, C, Living within the safe and just Earth system boundaries for blue water, Nature Sustainability, 2023