Footprint Network Blog - Footprint for Government

Deconstructing Carbon before UN Climate Summit

Global Footprint Network - 09/15/2014 05:00 PM

Charged up by activists mobilizing for the UN Climate Summit in New York next week, we delved into our carbon Footprint data to see if we could shed light on the very intractable debates swirling around nations’ responsibilities for reducing emissions.  In the first graph below, our intrepid research analyst David Zimmerman found while EU countries toot their horns about declining emissions (as represented by the blue line below), the picture is not so simple.  

Here’s what David discovered after creating an index starting at 1993: EU emissions are actually increasing (except for a 2009 recession dip) when you account for all emissions resulting from consumption by EU residents (as shown in the red line). The measurement includes goods produced outside the EU but ultimately consumed inside its borders, and excludes goods produced within the EU that are consumed outside its borders.

EU Emissions

In a second graphic, David compared carbon emissions within a nation’s borders (domestic carbon emissions) to carbon emissions embodied in national consumption, which includes carbon associated with the production of goods outside the nation that were ultimately consumed inside the nation’s borders.

Nations Emissions

Not surprisingly, domestic emissions in countries like the US, the UK, and Switzerland were actually lower than the overall carbon emissions globally associated with the products their citizens consume –because they have large Ecological Footprints and consume many goods produced beyond their borders. 

As these graphics show, pointing fingers is no simple matter.  Rather, it’s in each nation’s self-interest to establish policies to reduce its citizens’ carbon and Ecological Footprints. The alternative is more political, economic, and climate instability and uncertainty.

That’s why Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel is supporting two initiatives related to the UN Climate Summit in New York. Dr. Wackernagel is a founding signatory to a letter asking world leaders to take urgent action on climate change to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade. You, too, can add your voice here:

Dr. Wackernagel also has joined a coalition of countries, companies, NGOs and indigenous peoples organizations in endorsing the New York Declaration of Forests, which calls for halving the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end forest loss by 2030.

Global Footprint Network Fuels Public Debate on Swiss Competitiveness

09/15/2014 04:30 PM

Given that Swiss residents consume four times more than Swiss ecosystems can regenerate, what should the nation do to stay competitive?  

That was the question that Global Footprint Network and partner BAKBASEL was charged with addressing in a new report launching Sept. 16.

The objective of the study, commissioned by Switzerland’s Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE) and four other ministries, was to establish the impact on Swiss competitiveness of current resource trends.   

The report's findings will be unveiled Sept. 16 in Bern to spark debate at the fifth public town hall event of Dialog Nachhaltige Entwicklung Schweiz ("Dialogue on Sustainable Development in Switzerland"), a program sponsored by ARE.  

Global Footprint Network and BAKBASEL recognize in the report that current economic impacts of ecological constraints may still be limited for the Swiss economy. Still, the economic risks from growing ecological constraints are becoming increasingly significant. The longer-term implications – in its most condensed form — can be summarized as follows:  

In the competition for limited ecological assets, what really matters are trends in relative GDP. To win the “resource game” in a world of shrinking natural resource availability and increasing demand, one’s relative income has to rise.  

As is happening for most high-income countries vis-à-vis the emerging economies, Switzerland's relative income has been receding compared to the world – the Swiss resident is now taking home a 35 percent smaller share of the global income than 20 years ago, or less than 50 percent  of the share 35 years ago. 

At the same time, most countries are increasing their demand on the rest of the world, fueling the competition for resources and ecological services. With more than 85 percent of the world population already living in countries with biocapacity deficits, this trend can no longer be ignored.

The report identifies five possible ways to reduce the competitiveness risks from biocapacity deficits:   

1. “Retreat from the world,” and reduce global integration as much as possible (even if it reduces standards of living) to avoid the exposure to negative impacts from cut-throat competition over resources.  

2. “Embrace hyper-growth,” and accelerate economic output in order to keep up with or even outcompete the relative gains of emerging economies.  

3. “Hedge your bets,” keep maximizing the global integration benefits through a strong Swiss brand as long as it lasts, and set up a sovereign fund to reengineer the economy when it becomes necessary.   

4. “Reengineer extreme resource-efficiency right now,” employ the most efficient technologies to make Switzerland far less dependent on foreign resources – without reducing labor productivity. A variance of this strategy may be to also invest heavily in the resource efficiency of value chains leading into Switzerland.

5. “Forge privileged resource relationships.” One way of securing Switzerland’s supply may be to develop long-term bilateral resource contracts with biocapacity-rich nations. Enabling this would require significant additional intervention by the government (since until now most resources are traded privately and not via government-sponsored channels).  

Of course, each scenario comes with its long suite of challenges and risks. In fact, none can easily be embraced as the obvious fix. What about a sixth option, yet to be envisaged? Or could this sixth option be an optimal blend of the five ones listed above?   

At any rate, any attempt at an answer must first determine what level of biocapacity deficit would be strategic for Switzerland in order to bring forth an affordable pathway to a resilient, resource secure and prosperous future.  

ARE commissioned the study in collaboration with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO)Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Download the report in English, French or German.

The invitation to the national dialogue available here  (in German) summarizes the event.

Partner Profile: Footprint Changes Policy in Vancouver

Global Footprint Network - 09/15/2014 04:00 PM

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore, 
Director, Sustainable Development and Environment Stewardship
British Columbia Institute of Technology
School of Construction and the Environment

In 2006, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) became the first post-secondary educational institution to join Global Footprint Network’s partner network, which now numbers 76 institutions applying the Ecological Footprint methodology around the world. Dr. Jennie Moore, director of sustainable development and environmental stewardship at BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment, has led the charge, applying Footprint science to make real policy changes for the Vancouver city government. 

To become the “greenest city in the world,” the city of Vancouver is currently implementing its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which includes ambitious lighter Footprint targets. The city hopes to reduce its ecological footprint by 33 percent below 2006 levels by 2020, and achieve one-planet living by 2050. Moore and Bill Rees, co-founder of the Ecological Footprint, have been working closely with the city to explore what it would take to achieve this goal. 

Vancouver already has the lowest carbon Footprint of any city in North America. However, Dr. Moore suggests that there is still a long way to go. “The reality is that here and in North America generally, we rank among some of the highest-level consumers in the world. For example, if everyone on the planet lived the way an average Vancouverite does, we would have observed Earth Overshoot Day on May 2nd instead of August 19th,” she notes. 

The city has applied Dr. Moore’s PhD research to advise policy direction. Using a newly improved urban metabolism methodology of residential consumption, Moore and colleagues have developed a “bottom up” ecological Footprint approach that enables cities to apply their own local data for sustainability policy work. This methodology is also being incorporated in the newly developed International Ecocity Framework and Standards (

Greenest City Action Plan 2020

Food is the largest contributor, making up nearly half of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint. Moore et al.’s research found that consuming less red meat would have one of the largest impacts, as red meat consumption accounts for half the food footprint. Any significant reduction to the food Footprint must come at the citizen level, so the city government has focused instead on reducing food waste at different stages of the consumption chain. 

Transportation was the second largest portion of Vancouver’s Footprint, with personal motor vehicle use counting for 55 percent of the transportation Footprint. To meet its one-planet living target, the city is pushing an effort to increase the mode-share of walking, cycling and transit to comprise 66 percent of the total resident transportation profile. This is a step towards the 86 percent that would be needed to get to one-planet living.

BCIT is also practicing what it preaches back on campus. The School of Construction and Environment has set a goal to reduce its institutional Footprint by 75 percent from its 2008 Footprint assessment. Click here for more on Ecological Footprint efforts at BCIT.

Japan Footprint Exposes Risks to Food Security

Global Footprint Network - 09/15/2014 03:00 PM

Japan Footprint Exposes Risks to Food Security
Global Footprint Network presentation in Tokyo focuses on ASEAN reliance

The ASEAN region is one of the fastest growing areas in the world, with a population of approximately 600 million people and a combined GDP that would make it the planet’s eighth largest economy. Despite these gains, the region faces myriad challenges: Large numbers of the population remain in poverty, while its member states are among the most vulnerable to climate change, deforestation, depletion of fisheries and other ecological pressures. These resource constraints pose threats to the region’s energy and food supplies. 

But what does this mean for Japan?

That question was the focus of a recent presentation in Tokyo given by Global Footprint Network Research Economist Katsunori Iha, and Asia Regional Director Pati Poblete hosted by the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund.

According to a recent study by Global Footprint Network, Japan is growing increasingly dependent on resources from the ASEAN region. Most notably: Thailand is a major contributor to exports to Japan in the cropland Footprint as well as the fishing grounds Footprint, suggesting a large dependence of Japan on Thailand for its fish products and agricultural crops. In the case of forest land Footprint, Indonesia is the highest contributor, suggesting Japan’s dependence on the country for timber and forest products.

Four countries make up 80 percent of the ASEAN food Footprint exports to Japan: Thailand , Indonesia, and Vietnam  and the Philippines. 

With growing ecological pressures in the ASEAN region, Japan faces its own risks to food security and economic stability as it continues to depend on the region for essential commodities. Understanding these risks and identifying opportunities to work with the region to manage its resources is the ultimate goal of the study, which was funded by KNCF.

The presentation was attended by representatives of numerous government agencies, including the Ministry of the Environmental, and by members of the private sector, including Toyota Foundation.

Contribution of Japan’s imported Ecological Footprint by ASEAN countries

Here are just a few additional facts about Japan’s Footprint, taken from Global Footprint Network’s Japan Ecological Footprint Report 2012:

  • Nearly 20 percent of Japan’s Ecological Footprint is associated with the consumption of food.
  • Japan produces only about 24 percent of the biocapacity required for its food consumption.
  • On average, the shipping distance of food imported into Japan is about 4,500 miles, approximately the direct distance between Tokyo and Moscow.
  • Since Japan imports over 50 million tonnes of food per year carbon dioxide emissions just from the maritime shipping of food (ignoring the transport of food to and from sea ports) into Japan corresponds to an Ecological Footprint of about 800,000 global hectares.


Spreading the Word on Earth Overshoot Day 2014

Ronna Kelly, Communications Director, Global Footprint Network - 08/26/2014 12:30 PM

Media outlets around the world helped share the news of Earth Overshoot Day this year, and thanks to countless partners and supporters, a conversation about our planet’s ecological deficit also took off on social media.

Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. This year, August 19 marked the date when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the entire year.

Highlights of Earth Overshoot Day 2014 media coverage included articles in Le Monde in France, El Mundo in Spain, and the Brasil Post in Brazil. Earth Overshoot Day also made the front page of La Stampa in Italy for the second year in a row. An online article in The Guardian in the UK generated 92 comments. In Switzerland, a Q&A with Bruno Oberle, director of the Swiss Ministry of Environment, was featured on the ministry’s website.

Les Echos in France published an article about Earth Overshoot Day as well as a lengthy Q&A with Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. Thomson Reuters ran an op-ed by CEO Susan Burns on the link between resource restraints and national economics. Reuters TV also produced a segment about Earth Overshoot Day featuring our partner, Wendy Arenas, founder and executive director of ALISOS - Alianzas para la Sostenibilidad, in Columbia, which made Thomson Reuters’ list of top 100 stories for the day. 

In Asia, Beijing News ran a feature on Earth Overshoot Day in its Sunday Earth Supplement. In Japan, Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the five national newspapers there, featured a short article, and Naoki Adachi, a leading voice in the corporate social responsibility field, wrote a blog post on Earth Overshoot Day.

Stories about Earth Overshoot Day also reached such diverse countries as Kenya, Romania, Cuba and Australia.

A TV news station in France took a lighter approach to the Earth Overshoot Day news, with clips of a small inflatable globe rolling through the streets.

A coalition of German activists in Berlin led by INKOTA used an even larger inflatable Earth to draw attention to Earth Overshoot Day at a gathering in Alexanderplatz. Participants in the event symbolically sucked the resources from the Earth until it collapsed onto the ground as part of their call for a more sustainable use of resources to enable a good life for future generations.

We also received entertaining pictures from Berlin of a Segway race from an Earth Overshoot Day-inspired event organized by British performance Ellie Harrison.  After “speeding” around a track, the racers headed into town to spread the word about global resource constraints. Why Segways? As Harrison explained, “These popular, but profoundly annoying, machines symbolise the stupidity of our species gratuitously wasting money and resources, whilst simultaneously preventing access to the gentle exercise that all bodies need to stay healthy.”

In China, students participated in an Earth Overshoot Day activity that involved answering questions and performing tasks to reduce the planet’s Ecological Footprint. Our partners WWF-China helped coordinate that event in addition to getting the word out about Earth Overshoot Day throughout the country.

From Berlin, we received entertaining pictures of a Segway race from an Earth Overshoot Day-inspired event organized by British performance Ellie Harrison.  After “speeding” around a track, the racers headed into town to spread the word about global resource constraints. Why Segways? As Harrison explained, “These popular, but profoundly annoying, machines symbolise the stupidity of our species gratuitously wasting money and resources, whilst simultaneously preventing access to the gentle exercise that all bodies need to stay healthy.”

In the social media world, we were thrilled to see our first Facebook post announcing Earth Overshoot Day shared by more than 500 supporters. Our first Tweet on Earth Overshoot Day garnered nearly 42,000 impressions, according to Twitter. 

Thank you for helping us raise awareness about Earth Overshoot Day and move a step closer toward ensuring our entire society lives well within the means of nature.

Click here for a list of media coverage of Earth Overshoot Day 2014.


What do Switzerland and China Have in Common?

Susan Burns, CEO, Global Footprint Network - 08/11/2014 05:10 PM

Did you know the Chinese province of Guizhou in southwest China bears some striking resemblance to Switzerland? I confess I didn't, until I was invited to Guizhou last month to speak at Eco-Forum Global. Since 2009, this annual conference gathers participants from around the world to share knowledge about policies regarding green economic transformation and ecological security. This year I spoke on a finance panel led by the chief economist of Bank of China, Ma Jun, and a panel organized by the Sino-Swiss Dialogue.

Just like Switzerland, Guizhou is landlocked and boasts a mountainous landscape. It is one of two provinces in China that President Xi Jinping declared to be testing grounds for China’s new focus on "eco-civilization" and the "China dream."

Hoping to learn more from Switzerland to build that dream, Chinese officials announced the Guizhou-Switzerland Agreement on Establishing Mountainous Economy and Eco-Civilization at Eco-Forum Global this year. With its rich landscape, including spectacular lakes and waterfalls, Guizhou is believed to be an ideal location to apply the innovative cleantech, eco-tourism and sustainable development strategies that have enabled Switzerland to preserve its stunning natural environment.

The Guizhou-Switzerland agreement builds on a larger bilateral free trade agreement between China and Switzerland that was signed last year and just took effect in July.

My Sino-Swiss Dialogue keynote talk at Eco-Forum Global delved into the similarities between China and Switzerland, where Global Footprint has worked with four ministries to analyze the country’s resource dependence and make Footprint and biocapacity part of the Swiss statistical information data published annually.

Like many countries, both China and Switzerland are ecological debtor countries using more biocapacity than their own ecosystems can provide. They make up the difference through trade with trading partners who are also in ecological deficit.

Switzerland's Ecological Footprint is four times larger than what ecosystems within Switzerland can renew. Its biocapacity deficit per person hasn’t changed over the last half century, and its financial resources have allowed it to easily access resources from abroad. However, because the world as a whole is becoming more constrained, Switzerland's biocapacity deficit will become economically more significant in the future.

Switzerland: Stable Biocapacity Deficit

China's Ecological Footprint is two times larger than its ecosystems can renew. Its biocapacity deficit has grown substantially amid the country's rapid development of the past decade.

China: Rapid Footprint Growth

On the bright side, however, both Switzerland and China have worked to preserve their natural resources, particularly forests. In Switzerland, forests were under severe pressure of overexploitation at the onset of industrialization in the middle of the 19th century. Soil erosion and avalanches prompted reform in forestry management and Swiss forests now cover 30 percent of the country's territory. China's forests were also under pressure until the Natural Forest Protection Project was launched in 1998. By the end of 2003, the Chinese government had injected about 50 billion Yuan (about 6 billion USD) into the program, putting some 95 million hectares of natural forest in conservation nationwide. The government has recently committed an additional 220 billion Yuan (36 billion USD) to the project and aims to add an additional 7,800 hectares of forest area.

China has been acutely aware of resource constraints for decades, as has Switzerland. Many Swiss still remember World War II when the country only had enough domestic food to feed its population (then half the current size) for seven months per year. This sense of resource fragility has been an important factor spurring Switzerland’s focus on energy, material and water efficiency, high-performance buildings, effective public transportation, land protection, urban containment and forest conservation.

However, the global context within which China is developing today is markedly different to that of Switzerland in the past century. Since World War II, the entire planet has gone into ecological overshoot, with humanity now using one and a half times more from nature every year than the planet can renew in the same timeframe. Today we are living in a far more resource-constrained era, making it more important than ever for all countries to track and manage their natural assets.

With China’s Ecological Footprint continuing to grow, Guizhou Province is clearly a region at a crossroads. On the cusp of rapid development, it has enormous opportunities to seize the moment and build new economic momentum. The question is whether it will set policies that enable it to thrive while at the same time avoiding the pollution and congestion that has plagued other regions in China. Gleaning valuable lessons from Switzerland is certainly one important step. Of course, we also believe Guizhou Province will need data-driven decision-making tools like the Ecological Footprint to succeed as well.

World Cup Footwork and Footprints: Who Are the Winners and Losers?

07/11/2014 10:10 PM

As the final World Cup match quickly approaches, we couldn’t help but kick around some Ecological Footprint numbers describing the diverse nations competing in this year’s games.

The eight nations who made it to the quarter-finals represent vastly different lifestyles. If all people on Earth lived like residents of those countries, how many Earths would it take? If we all lived like the Argentineans, it would take us 1.6 Earths. In contrast, living like the Belgians would require us to juggle 4.3 planets – not a small feat. The Colombian lifestyle would lead us to juggle the fewest Earths – just slightly more than one.


Do Big Footprints Give Teams a Leg Up in Football?

Do big Footprints produce big World Cup wins? After all, big Footprints may mean big budgets. Big budgets can buy more expensive players. But are they really better? When comparing the number of goals scored before the round of 16 (which evens the playing field because all teams competed in three games), the number of goals does not seem to correlate with a country’s Footprint size, as revealed on our soccer field below:


The U.S. and Belgium, for instance, have the largest Footprints per person, but their teams racked up only four goals – the same as the country with the lowest Footprint, Côte d’Ivoire. And the two countries that nailed the most goals have vastly different Footprints: Colombia, with 9 goals, has a Footprint of less than 2 global hectares per person, while the Netherlands with 10 goals has a Footprint of more than 6 global hectares per person.

World Cup football is exciting – nearly as exciting as the global sustainability game. The rules are similar. In both, the players strive to play their best within a given field. For soccer, the field is roughly 1 hectare for 22 players. For sustainability we have about 1.7 global hectares for each citizen of the planet. Can we all live well within that field? Imagine the cheers if we can! The Colombians are closer to winning that game than the Belgians. And if the Germans played the U.S. team in terms of energy transition, it may look as ugly for the U.S. as it did for the Brazilians on the soccer field earlier this week.

If we had to choose our favorite of the two finalists who face off on Sunday based on how little demand they place on nature, we would have to root for Argentina over Germany. GOOOOOLLLLLL!

Curious about the Footprints of individual countries? Visit this page and select a country from the dropdown menu:

Was braucht das «Flugzeug Schweiz» auf seinem Armaturenbrett?

Mathis Wackernagel - 03/06/2013 05:38 PM

Gastautor Mathis Wackernagel bloggt fur ETH-Klimablog

Flugzeuge ohne Treibstoffanzeige auf dem Armaturenbrett sind gefährlich. Fürs Starten geht’s. Aber sind wir mal in der Luft und fliegen ein paar Stunden, so ist es gut zu wissen, wie viel Kerosin noch im Tank ist, und wann wir landen sollten.Erstaunlicherweise aber hat das Armaturenbrett unserer Wirtschaft keine «Treibstoffanzeige».

Obwohl alle Ressourcen, die wir konsumieren, von der Natur kommen, finden wir im klassischen Instrumentarium der Politik keine Anzeige, die uns sagt, wie viel Natur uns zur Verfügung steht und wie viel wir brauchen. Einzelne Angaben kennen wir zwar – zum Beispel wie viel Elektrizität wir verbrauchen, oder wie viele Autos wir fahren. Aber die Nettobilanz? Wie sieht es, aus wenn wir alles zusammenzählen? Und ist das überhaupt möglich?

Read Complete Article >

Bringing the Ecological Footprint to Asia

01/23/2013 11:33 PM

In an era of resource constraints, how can a nation support the long-term success of its economy and the well-being of its citizens, while living within ecological limits? How will leaders react to the fact that their nation, which is in ecological deficit (occurring when the Footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population), relies upon other nations that not only are also in ecological deficit themselves but that are also dependent upon other nations that are in ecological overshoot?

These are just two questions that emerge when one examines the combined findings of recent reports on the Ecological Footprint of three Asian nations—Japan, China and the Philippines. All three nations are in ecological deficit (like most others—83 percent of humanity now lives in countries where the demand on nature’s services exceeds what local ecosystems can provide).

In November, Global Footprint Network released “A Measure for Resilience: 2012 Report on the Ecological Footprint of the Philippines,” in collaboration with the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines and the French Agency for Development. It is the first such report for a Southeast Asian nation.

Global Footprint Network’s Asia Regional Director Pati Poblete and Vice President of Operations Geoff Trotter (both far right) presented the first Footprint study of a Southeast Asian nation with (from left) Elisea Gozum, the Philippines Presidential Adviser on Climate Change; Agence Francaise de Development Country Director Lucle Cabellec; France Ambassador to Philippines Gilles Garachon; Miss Earth 2011 Olga Alava; Climate Change Commission Vice Chairman Mary Ann L. Sering; and Climate Change Commissioner Naderev M. Sano. The launch took place at Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines.(PNA photo Marvie A.Lloren)

The Philippines entered into ecological deficit by the 1960s, and the gap between demand and local biocapacity has been widening over time. In 2008 (the most recent year data is available), Philippine residents’ demand on nature was twice the country’s own capacity to provide biological resources and absorb its carbon emissions.

The report’s findings were presented before the Climate Change Commission, a cabinet-level stakeholder group within the Philippine national government, headed by the Office of the President and various ministries. The Commission enthusiastically and anonymously moved to adopt the findings of the report, which will be disseminated to other government agencies. Read Complete Article >

Ecological Footprint in Ecuador, New Collaborations

Global Footprint Network - 09/14/2012 05:13 PM

Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, was in Quito, Ecuador at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism to speak at the Inter-American Tourism Congress XX. The conference was part of the larger Conscious Tourism Congress.

Mathis spoke about the Ecological Footprint and underscored the current trends toward ecological overshoot.

“We have limited resources and unlimited wants. You have to think about tourism within this reality. We do not want to decrease the growth of tourism, but we need to see to what extent it will produce opportunities or harm,” he said.

After the talk on the conference’s inaugural day, Mathis met with the heads of several government agencies, including the Minister of the Environment (Mercy Borbor) and the Minister of Non-Renewable Resources, who expressed interest in working closer with Global Footprint Network. Read Complete Article >

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