Footprint Network Blog - 2011

UNEP FI Project Launch Follow Up

10/31/2011 06:11 PM

The joint project between the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and Global Footprint Network to assess the financial materiality of ecological risk was launched at the UN Foundation in Washington DC on 17 October 2011.  Opening remarks from Paul Clements-Hunt (Head of UNEP FI) and Susan Burns (Senior Vice President of Global Footprint Network) showed a clear commitment from both organisations to this potentially ground breaking project.  Richard Burrett, of Earth Capital Partners, also gave an inspiring presentation detailing not only the importance of this project but also how investors currently perceive the financial relevance of natural resources. 

It is clear that the tightening constraints on resources and their potential impacts on national economies are not included within current financial analysis. Yet such factors are thought to have growing implications for the long-term credit risk of many government bonds, especially those with long-dated maturities. 

A host of financial institutions were in attendance at the launch and participated in a stimulating discussion around the evidence base to show that ecological risks are becoming material for economies and how key ecological data can be linked to the financial and economic indicators.  This project will endeavour to shine a light on such questions to explore the role of natural resource accounting in strengthening risk models for government bonds.

Global Footprint Network and UNEP FI would like to thank all those who participated in the launch event and invite any other institutions who are interested to join the project. 

For more information please see the project brochure or contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government, Footprint Standards, Personal Footprint

Living Well in a World of 7 Billion

10/31/2011 12:25 AM

Humanity has reached a new milestone as we hit 7 billion. Never before have there been 7 billion people on planet earth, all at the same time. As we welcome the 7th billion global inhabitant, we also acknowledge the challenges we will face due to a burgeoning population explosion, resource depletion, food and water scarcity and overcrowded cities. This is especially true at a time when humanity as a whole is already using the planets regenerative capacity 50 percent faster than it can renew. 

Although humanity’s total demand is unsustainable, this consumption is very unevenly distributed among the 7 billion people. A large portion of humanity does not have enough resources to secure even their most basic subsistence needs. This suffering is intolerable. It affects the rest of humanity, too, most visibly through conflict and instability.

Therefore, Global Footprint Network is mapping how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what. In a crowded, resource constrained world this information helps decision makers understand our present resource situation and find options for avoiding unpleasant consequences.

Read Complete Article >

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Government, Human Development, Personal Footprint

GrowthBusters Film Blames Media & Growth Profiteers for Overpopulation

10/30/2011 07:34 PM

As the world population hits 7 Billion,  GrowthBuster’s bold new film will hold its world premiere in Washington DC on November 2, 2011. The film, Hooked on Growth, puts the modern “culture of growth”, as Dave Gardner, the film’s director coins it, under a microscope. Hooked on Growth, offers a look at the plethora of media messaging reinforcing the culture of growth. “We are at a point where we have to choose either a culture of growth or a culture of sustainability,” says Dave Gardner.
“The evidence available to us makes it clear the scale of the human enterprise has outgrown our planet,” says Gardner.  “Yet we ignore that evidence, and we do so with wild abandon. GrowthBusters explores why.”
“A 200-year binge of rampant consumption, population and economic growth have led us to believe growth is the path to prosperity and fulfillment,” says Gardner. Chris Martenson, author of The Crash Course, remarks in the film, “We happen to have had growth and prosperity coincident for long enough that we’ve confused them….”
The film calls this a “cultural myth.” GrowthBusters lays much of the blame for the myth’s persistence on the news media. Society is therefore hit with a constant barrage of language and attitude that reinforces the myth and programs the next generation to buy into it. The film identifies another force reinforcing growth addiction as “growth-pushers.” Companies and individuals whose increased wealth depends on market growth, “maintaining the illusion that perpetual growth is possible and desirable,” Gardner states.  GrowthBusters examines the beliefs and attitudes causing people to ignore evidence that perpetual growth is taking place.
“This could be the most important film ever made,” writes Paul Ehrlich, Author of The Population Bomb.
Gardner interviewed psychologists, physicists, ecologists, sociologists and economists to research and create GrowthBusters. It features interviews with experts like former World Bank senior economist Herman Daly and former presidential advisors Gus Speth and Robert Solow.
The film offers a hopeful perspective on a dour subject.  It profiles “Growthbusters in Action,” groups and individuals pioneering new value systems and ways of life that don’t depend on growth.
After its world premiere November 2, groups and individuals will hold screenings of the film around the world.


Participate in the 2012 Ecological Footprint Standards

10/18/2011 10:59 PM

Global Footprint Network is the standard setting body for the only Ecological Footprint standards  in the world.  The Ecological Footprint standards set forth quality criteria for Ecological Footprint studies of sub-national populations, organizations, and products.  The goal of the Ecological Footprint Standards is to build consensus among practitioners regarding Ecological Footprint methodology, transparency, and communications.  This consensus is important because it helps to establish a forum or a common platform for understanding and communicating about natural resource constraints.  To that end, the Ecological Footprint Standards are used as a way of maintaining the scientific credibility and accuracy of Ecological Footprint studies, the policy relevance, and the consistency and appropriateness with which the method is applied and findings communicated.

Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Standards have been established through a committee-based process that incorporates input from our Partnership Network and Public Comment.  The Global Footprint Network Standards Committee is starting the process to review and revise the Ecological Footprint Standards.  Participation in the Committee and Procedures for the Committee are outlined in Global Footprint Network Committees Charter. The result of this process will be updates to the 2009 Ecological Footprint Standards to be released towards the end of 2012.

Improving comparability The original goal of the Ecological Footprint Standards is to increase the quality, reliability and consistency of Footprint assessments.  As the Ecological Footprint is being adopted by a growing number of government agencies, organizations and communities as a measure of environmental performance, there is an even greater need for quality, consistency, and reliability.  This review and revision process for the 2012 Ecological Footprint Standards is a way to maintain this goal of improving comparability.

In addition, as the Ecological Footprint methodology is applied in different circumstances by different practitioners, advances to the methodology and communications strategies are being made.  Conducting a review and revision process every three years allows Global Footprint Network to stay on top of advances in Ecological Footprint science and application.  By engaging with experts, our Partner Network, and public comment every three years, our Ecological Footprint Standards can allow for a dynamic process that encourages innovation and action.

Global Footprint Network is actively seeking input from our Partner Network and Public Comment We invite interested parties to review our Ecological Footprint Standards and submit comments and recommendations for updates to be considered by the Standards Committee.  The Standards Committee will start discussions in November, 2011.  If you have suggestions that you would like the Standards Committee to consider, please send your input to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Your feedback is welcome during the entire process!  Before the revised Standards are finalized in 2012, there will be two 60-day Public Review periods, one in March – May 2012 and the second in July – September 2012.  These are your opportunities to provide more input as the draft develops.


Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government, Footprint Standards, Human Development, Our Partners’ Work, Personal Footprint

Including Ecological Risk in Country’s Credit Ratings

10/18/2011 04:00 PM

UNEP FI project seeks framework for assessing government bonds

Could an abundance of natural wealth be a factor in positively influencing a country’s credit rating and the quality of its bonds? Could a resource-guzzling economy be cause for a downgrade?

The UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and leading financial institutions will endeavor to shine a light on these questions with a groundbreaking project to explore the role of natural resource accounting in strengthening risk models for government bonds. The project seeks to incorporate how much natural wealth countries have – and how much they spend – into assessments of long-term credit risk.

Tightening constraints on resources and their potential impacts on national economies have been largely absent from financial analysis. Yet such factors are thought to have growing implications for the long-term credit risk of many government bonds, especially those with long-dated maturities.

“The global financial crisis has taught us more than anything that some of the core risks that affect the value of debt securities and derivatives can simply run ahead of our ability to understand them,” said Paul Clements-Hunt, Head of UNEP FI. “This is why we must deepen our understanding of the risks posed by climate change, water scarcity and the overuse of natural resources for securities. We should not be caught off-guard again. This project is one of the first that tries to quantitatively and systematically consider the linkages between the use of natural resources and its impact on a country’s core economic indicators that in turn influence the quality of its bonds.”

The bond project was launched yesterday at workshop at a side-event to the UNEP FI Global Roundtable, which is taking place in Washington D.C. this week. The Roundtable draws hundreds of leading financial experts along with high-level government officials seeking to address the link between financial stability and environmental sustainability.

The project has two aims: it will investigate the linkages between ecological risk and country-level risk in sovereign bonds, and develop a methodology to explore how credit rating agencies, investors and financial information providers can integrate ecological data into their respective models. In particular, the analysis will look at the risks to countries whose populations and/or industries require more resources than is domestically available and which are hence reliant on ecological services from abroad.

“As resource constraints tighten globally, countries that depend heavily on ecological services from other nations may find that their resource supply becomes insecure and unreliable. This has economic implications – in particular for countries that depend upon large amounts of ecological assets to power their key industries or to support their consumption patterns and lifestyles,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “Meanwhile, those countries with reserves of valuable natural capital may find themselves in an advantageous position.”

The project will substantiate the business case for financial institutions and ratings agencies to include ecological criteria as a key component of financially material country credit risk analysis.  Institutions will thus be enabled to work towards better inclusion of financially-material environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in financial products and services.

Learn More Read the Investment & Pension Europe article: Forests into Fixed Income.

Categories: Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Government, Footprint Standards, Human Development, Our Partners’ Work

Global Footprint Network and UNEP FI Launch Government Bond Initiative- Save the Date!

09/30/2011 04:01 PM

Invitation to attend the launch of
Integrating ecological risk in sovereign credit ratings and government bonds
17 October 2011| 13.00 – 17.00 | Washington D.C.

Global Footprint Network and UNEP FI are working with a number of leading financial institutions to collaborate on a transformational project to investigate the linkages between ecological risk and country level risk in sovereign bonds.

The Ecological Footprint and biocapacity trends offer a new way of interpreting the financially material threats and risks that are currently not included in country ratings, investment strategies or risk management systems.  The Ecological Footprint combined with biocapacity data provide a novel opportunity to better assess the risks to investments by analyzing resource dependency, trade relationships, commodity costing and risk-stability trends.  This is a two-fold project, first it aims to assess the financial materiality of ecological risks relevant for the credit risk evaluation of government bonds; secondly, it will develop a methodology to explore how credit rating agencies, investors and financial information providers can integrate ecological data into their respective models.

Throughout the project a more comprehensive and risk-inclusive understanding of how to evaluate sovereign bonds will be developed. Investments risks can be decreased by gaining a better understanding of resource stability for both biocapacity creditors and national debtors. This project will enable those involved in sovereign bond markets to work towards better inclusion of financially-material environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

We invite you to join the launch on 17 October in Washington D.C ahead of the UNEP FI Global Roundtable. The event is meant for financial institutions with an interest in sovereign bond markets that may consider joining the project, as well as those investors and banks that have already confirmed their participation. 

Please confirm you participation by contacting .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Or register online here.



Earth Overshoot Day, Sept 27 2011

09/26/2011 09:15 PM

Humanity is surpassing nature’s budget for the year, and is now operating in overdraft, according to Global Footprint Network calculations for 2011.

Earth Overshoot Day, which this year falls on September 27, helps conceptualize the degree to which we are over-budget in our use of nature. In approximately nine months, we are demanding a level of ecological services – from producing food and raw materials to filtering our carbon dioxide emissions—equivalent to what the planet can provide for all of 2011. From an ecological standpoint, we have effectively spent our annual salary, with a quarter of the year still to go.

“From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means,” said Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel.  “If we are to maintain stable societies and good lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require.”

Read Complete Article >


Dr. Wangari Maathai an Environmental Hero, Dies at 71

09/26/2011 07:34 PM

Global Footprint Network regrets the passing of Ms. Wangari Maathai, Advisory Council Member and Green Activist

Dr. Wangari Maathai, Kenya’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate died in Nairobi while undergoing cancer treatment at age 71.

Prof. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for starting a movement to reforest Kenya by paying poor women plant trees. She started the Green Belt Movement in 1977, working with women to improve their livelihoods by increasing their access to resources like firewood for cooking and clean water. She became a great advocate for better management of natural resources and for sustainability, equity, and justice. The Green Belt Movement has now planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

She was an elected Minister in the Kenyan government from 2002- 2008.  She fought tirelessly for sustainable development, democracy and peace. “Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” stated Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nation’s environmental program to the New York Times. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”

She was an extraordinary woman who stood up to authority for decades, as an activist and a champion for a greener world.

In her speech accepting the Nobel Prize, Ms Maathai said she hoped her own success would spur other women on to a more active role in the community. “I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership,” she said.

Former U.S. vice president Al Gore also paid tribute saying, “Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service—service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya—and to the world as a whole. She was a warm and devoted mother and I send my condolences to her family.  She worked tirelessly both as an elected Member of Parliament and an Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.  She forged new ground for women in Kenya helping shatter what we would call the ‘glass ceiling’ in the United States.”

“Africa, particularly African women, have lost a champion, a leader, an activist. We’re going to miss her. We’re going to miss the work she’s been doing all these years on the environment, working for women’s rights and women’s participation,” said President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said to the BBC. There are calls for her legacy to live on.

Dr. Wangari Maathai was a member of Global Footprint Networks’ Advisory Board since it was formed in 2003. She will be sadly missed.



Global Footprint Network’s welcomes Stephen Groff to the Advisory Council

09/20/2011 05:57 PM

Global Footprint Network is pleased to welcome Stephen Groff to our Advisory Council.  Stephen Groff is the Deputy Director of the Development Cooperation at the OECD in Paris, where he leads strategic policy analysis. Mr. Groff is responsible for strategic policy analysis on a wide range of development-related economic and political issues. He also plays a central role in the monitoring and evaluation of aid efforts, and serves as acting director of the “Partnership for Democratic Governance” – a new multilateral initiative focused on fragile states. He serves as OECD’s envoy to the G20 Working Group on Development, the G8 Accountability Working Group and the UN Secretary General’s High Level Task Force on Food Security. Mr. Groff is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council and is on the board of directors of the National Peace Corps Association.

Having spent the last 25 years working and living in over 30 developing countries around the world, Mr. Groff has extensive international development expertise.

Prior to joining OECD, Mr. Groff was Deputy Vice President for Operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – a new U.S. bilateral assistance initiative, where he oversaw a broad range of MCC activities and advised the CEO on development issues, strategy and policy while playing a central role in ensuring quality, technical excellence and development impact in MCC operations.He has also served as a senior advisor at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila and as the deputy director and chief economist on a large USAID project designed to encourage private sector development in the southern Philippines. Mr. Groff holds a two-year MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a B.S. from Yale College.

Groff’s extensive development and policy experience will bring a valuable perspective to our work and research.


WWF Launches its Film and Video Competition

09/07/2011 05:36 PM

This year is the 50th anniversary of WWF’s short-film festival.
WWF is asking creative and innovative filmmakers to participate in this year’s short film festival: Life. Nature. You. Make the Connection.
The contest invites both aspiring and accomplished film-makers to produce an original two minute film.
The judging panel has now been selected and WWF will name two winning entries, one judged by a jury, the other judged by peers. The winners will receive a commission from WWF to produce a special short film that will inspire people to value and protect our environment, and an all expenses paid trip to India to attend the CMS Vatavaran environmental film festival.
To learn more about the rules and how to enter, visit WWF Short Film Competition
The deadline is November 1st.


“The biggest business opportunity ever seen”

08/29/2011 06:46 PM

Finding the sweet spot between low Footprint and high human development amounts to the biggest business opportunity ever seen, World Business Council for Sustainable Development President Bjorn Stigson told the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

What is required for sustainable development is lifting billions out of poverty while reducing resource use by four to ten times, the article said. This is, according to Stigson, is a necessary but unprecedented transformation, larger and faster than the Industrial Revolution. It is an enormous challenge. But whoever “wins” the green race will dominate the future would economy, and right now, China is winning, Stigson said.

Read the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.


UN Roundtable to Address Sustainability’s Economic Imperative

08/15/2011 11:35 PM

Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel will join Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme and other speakers at a United Nations meeting of global financial leaders in Washington, D.C. this fall addressing the link between financial stability and environmental sustainability.

The biannual meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) Global Roundtable is a high-level conference that draws a select group of 600 banking, insurance and investment leaders and global thinkers for an intensive, two-day dialogue. This year’s discussion is positioned to channel the views of the financial services sector into the discussions at the so-called “Rio + 20” Conference, a UN summit that will gather world leaders in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 years after the original Rio Earth Summit.

Read Complete Article >


2012 Standards Update

08/15/2011 11:20 PM

Global Footprint has launched a comprehensive review and update of its Ecological Footprint Standards, to be released in 2012.  The standards (available here) establish best practices to govern the use and applicability of the Footprint method, allowing users everywhere to employ the Footprint across a wide range of approaches and applications while maintaining consistency, credibility, and integrity of results.

Read Complete Article >


Footprint-influenced Bond Ratings Win Key Finance Award

08/15/2011 11:00 PM

Global Footprint Network partner Bank Sarasin has been honored with the City of London’s Sustainable City Award for its innovative financial analysis using Ecological Footprint accounting as a credit risk factor in assessing government bonds.

The judges chose the Swiss banking firm as the overall winner for “research into how being green affects a nations’ growth prospects,” according to a press release issued by the prize committee. “This ‘green is good for the economy’ message is all the more powerful for having come from a bank rather than an NGO.”

Read Complete Article >


San Francisco Looks at its Footprint

08/15/2011 10:51 PM

In 2010, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) teamed up with Global Footprint Network to explore the Ecological Footprint of San Francisco, a city that prides itself on leading the US in forward-thinking sustainability policies.

Read Complete Article >

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Personal Footprint

Pondering the Economics of a Planet in Overdraft

08/15/2011 10:05 PM

Our current economic and pricing mechanisms simply don’t square with physical reality: that is the hypothesis of two new, widely-celebrated books, which lead with Global Footprint Network statistics.

The ecological facts on the ground are clear, environmental scientist Lester Brown attests in his book World On the Edge, which he was writing as heat-induced wildfires vaporized almost half of Russia’s wheat harvest, put a fifth of Pakistan underwater and sent food prices spiraling. Yet economic policies continue to be based upon an endless supply of cheap and available natural resources. It’s a disconnect he likens to the theories of astronomy in the days just before Copernicus.

Read Complete Article >


US EPA Southwestern Region to Add Footprint to its Dashboard

08/15/2011 10:00 PM

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9, covering the Pacific Southwest, has contracted Global Footprint Network to conduct an Ecological Footprint analysis of California, which will be the first such in-depth look at the Footprint of a US state. The agency plans to incorporate the Ecological and water Footprints into a dashboard of sustainability indicators. EPA’s Region 9 serves Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands and 147 Tribes.

Global Footprint Network’s data will contribute to an analysis that will explore issues such as how much of harvested land is irrigated, how much of California’s biocapacity is occupied by built-up land, and what are the main drivers of ecological demand in the state. It will also explore new areas in Footprint and biocapacity research, such as how demand on biological and water resources could affect the state’s ecological productivity.

Read Complete Article >


Visualizing the Value of Nature

08/15/2011 09:44 PM

Earlier this year,, acreative community working to use data and design to help communicate complex issues, presented a challenge: How to illustrate the value of nature and our use of nature’s services. The group joined up with TEEB (the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), a UN-sponsored effort to put a dollar figure on nature’s services such as providing fuel, food, water and habitat, by assessing both their economic benefits and the costs associated with their depletion.

The winning entry for the challenge used Global Footprint Network data to show the relationship between countries’ ecological demand, their biocapacity and the size of their deficit or reserve. Check it out here:

Visualizing the Value of Nature


Read our 2010 Annual Report

2010 Annual Report
08/15/2011 09:34 PM

“Climate Change is Not the Problem.”  Find out what is.

Learn how all of the major ecological crises we face today are symptoms of a single, over-arching problem – and what we are doing about it.

Click here to read our Annual Report.




UN: greening key economic sectors could cut humanity’s Footprint in half

Towards a Green Economy
08/15/2011 08:41 PM

Investing just 2 percent of global GDP to green key sectors of the economy could cut humanity’s Ecological Footprint almost in half while actually boosting economic growth, according to a new report by the United Nations Environmental Programme.
The report cites Global Footprint Network data as evidence of the challenge humanity has faced in improving human welfare without also incurring large increases in ecological demand.

Read Complete Article >


Fit For the Long Run

04/22/2011 04:31 AM

How a Carbon Tax Will Help Australia Compete

In recent weeks, opponents of a proposed carbon tax have succeeded in fanning fear that the tax could hurt national competitiveness by denting demand for Australia’s coal and mining sectors. Yet such fears are decidedly misplaced. The Gillard government’s plan to put a levy on the worst contributors to carbon pollution reflects a move toward pricing that is rooted firmly in the ecological realities of the 21st century. It is pricing that promotes forward-looking investment and innovation, rather than subsidizing an outmoded status quo. And it is pricing that will ultimately mean more jobs and better lives for Australian residents, and more stability for the Australian economy.

Coal and mining executives protest that jobs could be lost if importing countries such as China and Japan have a reason to seek out other markets. Such concerns, however, beg a question: If jobs are lost today because of an uptick in the cost of doing business, what will be the impact on the sector as the global marketplace moves to cleaner, greener solutions? In a world facing climate change and growing constraints on resources, the good money is on those industries that lead the way in energy efficiency and clean technology. Australia’s mining sector—in particular its coal industry—is on the other end of that spectrum, topping the list in carbon pollution and environmental demand.

“We really need to stop thinking that this will mean acting out ahead of the world,” GE Capital’s regional chief executive Steve Sargent was quoted as saying in a recent article in Business Day. “We actually have a long way to catch up. Germany has broken the nexus between strong economic growth, strong trade growth, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. With Australia, we have gotten worse.”

The booming profits of the coal and mining sector mask a growing cost to the health of another of Australia’s most important assets: its vast ecological wealth. Australia ranks seventh in the world in biocapacity, the amount of renewable natural resources its ecosystems can provide.
If well-managed, this self-replenishing source of wealth will offer Australia continued advantages, both in supplying the resources the rest of the world needs, and in providing for the needs of its own people. In a world in which the supply of renewable natural resources is shrinking while demand mushrooms, the potential value of this asset is inestimable. But there is a key problem: the principal is eroding.

Between 1961 and 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, Australia’s biocapacity per person fell by more than half, due largely to a similar amount of capacity being divided by a growing number of people. Total biocapacity has declined by about five percent. At the same time, Australia’s Ecological Footprint, the amount of productive land and sea required to produce the resources it consumes and absorb CO2 emissions, is the 12th largest in the world, and the country is one of the world’s highest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide. This degree of resource-intensity implies significant changes not only to key sectors but to society as a whole if Australia is to keep step with the rest of world.

Analysis by investment firms such as Goldman Sachs, Citi, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan have put the impact of the tax at less than two percent of earnings for all but a very few Australian companies. These are negligible impacts in a time of soaring profits, and they scarcely approach the true costs of emissions.

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering assessed that, for every megawatt hour produced by brown coal, a cost of $50 in greenhouse gas pollution and health impacts accrues to society. Such costs are paid for by citizens or borrowed against Australia’s future in ways such as depleted ecosystems and lost agricultural productivity. 

The Gillard government’s plan to institute a carbon tax recognizes a key reality: If we continue to build our success on using ever more resources, we are preparing for our demise. If instead, we invest in building environmental capital and reducing ecological demand, we can adjust more comfortably, and even profitably, to a changing world. Mechanisms that help us do so are anything but uncompetitive. They are a strategy for managing our economy with an eye to the future rather than the past.

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits

UN: greening key economic sectors could cut humanity’s Footprint in half

02/22/2011 11:50 PM

Investing just 2 percent of global GDP to green key sectors of the economy could cut humanity’s Ecological Footprint almost in half while actually boosting economic growth, according to a new report by the United Nations Environmental Program.

The report cites Global Footprint Network data as evidence of the challenge humanity has faced in improving human welfare without also incurring large increases in ecological demand.

“With 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day and with more than two billion people being added to the global population by 2050, it is clear that we must continue to develop and grow our economies,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a press release. “But this development cannot come at the expense of the very life support systems on land, in the oceans or in our atmosphere that sustain our economies, and thus, the lives of each and everyone of us.”

The report calls for channeling $1.3 trillion into the transformation of 10 key sectors—agriculture, buildings, energy supply, fisheries, forestry, industry, tourism, transport, waste management and water. Such a shift, the report asserts, could deliver long-term growth equal to or better than the most optimistic scenarios projected under current economic policies, while avoiding the catastrophic risks of “business-as-usual” such as climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystem services.

Greening key sectors would spur growth in jobs and wealth that, over the long term, would exceed those lost from the transition away from resource-intensive activities, the report says. It would also have greater impact in reducing poverty because of the direct reliance of the poor on the health and vitality of their surrounding natural environment.

Read the report.


What would it take to make Hong Kong sustainable?

01/18/2011 08:11 PM

Hong Kong residents are living beyond the Earth’s means, according to a report released Sunday by Global Footprint Network and WWF.

As a society that relies extensively on resources from abroad, Hong Kong is particularly vulnerable to growing global constraints on resources, the report says. But in spite of its unsustainable consumption, there are a number of readily available measures that would enable Hong Kong to reduce its pressure on ecological services, and enable it to achieve a one-planet Ecological Footprint.

The Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report, issued every two years, aims to provide a benchmark to track Hong Kong residents’ shifts in consumption, from which trends can be identified and actions proposed.

The 2010 report reveals that if everyone in the world lived a similar lifestyle to that of Hong Kong residents, we would need the equivalent of 2.2 Earths. In 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, Hong Kong residents had an average per person Ecological Footprint of 4.0 global hectares (hectares with world-average productivity). This level of demand is more than double the 1.8 gha that was available per person globally in 2007 to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2.

“Unsustainable demand on a global scale means that countries and regions such as Hong Kong will find it increasingly harder to meet their resource needs simply by relying on ecological services from abroad,” said Dr. Wackernagel.  “The more it can provide a high quality of life for its residents on a smaller Ecological Footprint, Hong Kong will not only address global risks, but more directly, it will make its economy more resilient facing the future.”


The largest portion of Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint—60 percent—comes from carbon dioxide emissions. Hong Kong’s carbon Footprint per person has grown 24-fold since 1962.  While 26 percent of its carbon Footprint comes from CO2 emitted from within Hong Kong itself (for example, from vehicles and electricity use), the majority, 74 percent is embodied in goods and services produced abroad. Some 58 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted elsewhere to supply imports to Hong Kong.

Other major drivers of Hong Kong’s Footprint are consumption of seafood and timber products, which are mostly from unsustainable sources.
But there are reasons for optimism. In contrast to the rest of China, Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint per person has declined 25 percent and leveled off since it peaked in the late 1990s. While it is no doubt benefiting from some increased efficiencies in the city, the decline appears largely due to vagaries in the trade of the embodied carbon of goods and natural resources, and of cropland products. It is mostly not the result of sustainable development policies.


One key way Hong Kong could reduce its Footprint is by boosting the market for sustainable goods. “Consumers can demand that the seafood and timber products we consume are produced sustainably,” notes Dr Andy Cornish, Director, Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong. “In this way we can leverage Hong Kong’s buying power and act as a regional catalyst to drive natural resource producers towards sustainability. In turn, this will create an increased and reliable supply of sustainable products for Hong Kong.”

With 70 percent of the average carbon Footprint coming from household consumption (as opposed to businesses or public infrastructure and services), individual choices have a key role to play. The report calls on Hong Kong to reduce excessive, inefficient and wasteful consumption. It also calls for transforming its modest agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries industries to minimize their impact to the environment.

“Solutions are readily available, and Hong Kong is a city used to reinventing itself,” the report concludes. “Reducing Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint per person by half would approximate the biocapacity that is available globally and, therefore, make it a logical and sustainable objective.”

Read the Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2010

Download pdf version

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government

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