Human societies and economies depend on the biosphere's natural capital and its many life-supporting ecological services. As demand on and scarcity of these ecological resources increases, economic success can no longer be secured without carefully managing and tracking the availability and consumption of natural capital.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Mediterranean region. For more than two years, the region has been rocked by economic crises resulting from overextension of financial resources. But Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries face another yawning deficit—an ecological deficit—that poses deep-seeded risks to the region’s long-term success.
Virtually every country in the Mediterranean region consumes more ecological resources than local ecosystems can replenish. To cover the widening gap between supply and demand, the region is increasingly relying on global resources, of which there are less. Meanwhile, growing competition for such resources undermines the region's ability to secure them elsewhere.
Indeed, while the Mediterranean's own ecological deficit has been growing, its relative income (compared to world average) has been declining, weakening the region's position to access the limited resources around the globe. The situation is unsustainable, and risks Mediterranean countries’ long-term economic security and their capacity to guarantee social well-being for their citizens.
Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean initiative, launched in June 2010 with the support of MAVA Foundation and in partnership with Plan Bleu, WWF's Mediterranean Programme and UNESCO Venice Office, is an effort to bring leaders together to develop a regional approach to managing resource consumption and availability.
In June 2012, Global Footprint Network published the initiative's key findings in Why Are Resource Limits Now Undermining Economic Performance? Global Footprint Network released its full report, Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends, on October 1, 2012 at a two-day conference in Venice, Italy, attended by representatives of 12 nations. The event and report received wide regional media coverage, including in Le Monde, La Stampa, and RAI TV.
Forty years into global ecological overshoot, we are heading into the storm. Every year, we consume more ecological resources than the planet can annually replenish. It's a classic definition of "unsustainability." It's also a crisis in the making.
No reasonably informed person can deny that we are living beyond our means. Global Footprint Network data show that three quarters of humanity—and almost all people in the Mediterranean region—now live in countries that demand more natural resources and services than what their local ecosystems can replenish in a given year.
Since the 1970s, when the world went into ecological overshoot, the deficit between supply of and demand for resources has widened each year. Today, our data show that humanity is using 52 percent more resources than can be regenerated annually. In other words, we consume the equivalent of about 1.5 Earth's worth of resources each year.
A WIDENING GAP BETWEEN SUPPLY AND DEMAND / In this global context, the Mediterranean region has seen an even worse ecological balance, with an ecological deficit already taking place before the 1960s and a gap between supply and demand that has increased by approximately 230 percent during the last five decades.
The question now is, how will governments and other decision-makers react? Will they move to safeguard their natural assets, their economies and their social well-being? Or will we see more business as usual—that is, little or no reform, until the world as a whole agrees to take action?
Some leaders in the Mediterranean region are becoming acutely aware of the potentially debilitating consequences of resource constraints, but overconsumption continues and changing trends will take time. To achieve lasting development success, governments, institutions, businesses and individuals must work with the reality that human well-being— prosperity—depends on our natural capital.
The Mediterranean initiative's objective is to bring the reality of resource constraints into the national and international policy debate. The initiative will provide decision-makers with key Ecological Footprint and biocapacity data to inform policy issues. It aims to help leaders understand: What are the key resource issues faced by Mediterranean countries, and how can the region work collectively to manage resource consumption and natural capital?
Long ignored by decision-makers as irrelevant to economic planning and a nation's prosperity, "resource limitation" is now a critical factor that determines a country’s competitiveness in the 21st Century. If human demand on ecological resources and services continues to exceed what the Earth can regenerate, substantial disruption to the resource base will occur, undermining economic performance and social wealth.
On October 1, 2012, Global Footprint Network published its two-year investigation into the link between environmental and economic crises in the Mediterranean region. Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends was released for the opening of a two-day regional conference in Venice, Italy, giving stakeholders a greater understanding of the risks of current resource trends, and their nations’ opportunities to remain competitive.
The report's key findings and the Venice conference included discussions on:
Knowing the answers to these questions can mean the difference between a country’s long-term success and its vulnerability in an ever increasingly resource-constrained world.
"We call on governments and international institutions to consider the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity to assess the state of ecological assets, and to measure the progress of sustainable development and green economy in the Mediterranean region."
The MAVA Foundation was established in 1994 and is a family-led, Swiss-based philanthropic foundation whose mission is to engage in strong partnerships to conserve biodiversity for future generations.
Plan Bleu aims to produce information and knowledge in order to alert decision-makers and other stakeholders to environmental risks and sustainable development issues in the Mediterranean, and to shape future scenarios to guide decision-making processes.
The UNESCO Venice Office is developing an educational and training platform on the application of the Ecological Footprint in SEE and Mediterranean countries, using in particular the network of MAB Biosphere Reserves as special demonstration and learning places.
WWF Mediterranean Programme mission is to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature. The WWF Mediterranean initiative aims at conserving the natural wealth of the Mediterranean and reducing human footprint on nature for the benefit of all.