“Sustainability is not just an environmental or moral issue. It’s about the well-being of humanity and our planet,” says Pati Poblete, Asia Regional Director at Global Footprint Network, in our new Giving Library overview video.
The Giving Library’s online video archive educates philanthropists about nonprofit causes. There, potential donors can browse hundreds of American nonprofit videos in which representatives describe their work and impact.
Pati’s video details the Ecological Footprint accounting tool: how much nature can provide, how much we’re using, and who uses what. She explains why this comprehensive, holistic approach incorporates forests, agriculture, and fisheries: “Because the world doesn’t operate in silos. The world is an ecosystem.” As for the necessity of Ecological Footprint accounting? “The core issue is: Humanity is using more than the Earth can renewably provide.”
Hear more from Pati below about Global Footprint Network’s collaboration with its target audience — national governments — including how she convinced the Office of the President of the Philippines to work directly with us.
As of this week, we are in overshoot. Humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year.
August 20 was Earth Overshoot Day 2013, the approximate date humanity’s ecological resource consumption exceeded what Earth can renew this year. A mere 34 weeks into 2013, we demanded a level of ecological resources and services — from food and raw materials to sequestering carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions — equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2013.
For the rest of the year, we are operating in ecological overshoot. We will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. As our level of consumption, or “spending,” grows, the interest we are paying on this mounting ecological debt — shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, degraded land productivity and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and oceans — not only burdens the environment but also undermines our economies. Climate change — a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — is the most widespread impact of ecological overspending.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. Making better choices will better ensure that we can reverse trends and move toward a sustainable future; measuring how much nature we have, how much we use and how much we need will help us make those choices. This year, due in no small part to the critical support of our partners and supporters, that message resonated around the world.
Major world media reported on Earth Overshoot Day 2013. The front page of the print version of the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa featured our infographic of ecological debtor countries as its Page 1 centerpiece. France’s Le Monde and Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo ran articles explaining Overshoot Day calculations and the implications of humanity’s increasing Ecological Footprint. Mexico’s El Universal, the UK’s Daily Mail, Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger, the U.S. magazine Popular Science and the Brazilian science journal Galileu, among many others, also had their own stories, while Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported the story for Liberation and Le Figaro newspapers (both France), FOX News, the Japan Times, Manila Times, Voice Russia and other media outlets. Television and radio — such as the multilingual Euronews television network, CBS radio, Swiss radio, and broadcasters in Ireland, Uruguay, Mexico, Quebec, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere — carried either live interviews or taped stories on Earth Overshoot Day.
As media reportage provided the context, op-ed and commentary addressed strategies for living in a resource constrained world. Andrew Simms, originator of the Earth Overshoot Day concept and chief analyst at Global Witness, made the case for living within our means in The Guardian (UK). Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US, urged businesses to “begin producing more with less” in Foreign Affairs. “We have only a 15 to 20-year window in which to turn the tide,” Alessandro Galli, Global Footprint Network Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director, wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News.
This year’s print, airtime and online media and blog space devoted to Earth Overshoot Day were the best yet. And social media was ablaze. Facebook comments and reposts and Twitter #OvershootDay and #EcologicalOvershoot tweets and retweets climbed steadily. WWF’s concurrent #oshoot Vine and Thunderclap campaigns rolled across Twitter to create a collective shout about humanity already exceeding this year’s ecological resource limits.
Other partners such as INKOTA in Berlin, Germany and Swiss Clean Tech in Bern, Switzerland held events to commemorate the day. We heard from many followers as well, including a community college teacher who used Global Footprint Network’s individual Ecological Footprint calculator as a way to introduce her students to ecological resource limits on the semester’s first day of her “Humans and the Environment” course.
Thank you all for your dedication to raise awareness about this annual mark of humanity’s ecological overspending. We look forward to the day when we can celebrate our success together in reversing current trends and moving toward a world that works for everyone.
Global Footprint Network Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director Alessandro Galli will join Jeffrey Sachs of Earth Institute at Columbia University on a panel, “Practical steps towards green growth in the Mediterranean region,” at the MED Solutions Network’s first conference on Thursday, July 4, 2013, at the University of Siena.
The Mediterranean region has nearly tripled its demand for ecological resources and services over the past five decades, and increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent. Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean Initiative aims to bring leaders together to develop a regional approach to managing ecological assets consumption and availability.
DESERTEC University Network works on green security and trans-Mediterranean renewable energy cooperation. Global Footprint Network-DESERTEC’s solution, Sustainability Compass: Guide for Projects to Reduce Ecological Deficit and Improve Human Development, focuses on developing a framework to measure the sustainable development return on investment (SDROI) of any project, using DESERTEC’s project to build solar panels in North Africa as a case study. The initiative aims to apply Ecological Footprint accounting in combination with assessments of human development (such as the UNDP Human Development Index) to estimate SDROI potential. Alessandro Galli will present the Global Footprint Network-DESERTEC solution at the MED Solutions Network conference on Friday, July 5, 2013.
Through the engagement with the Med Solutions Network, we hope to participate in the regional debate on sustainable development, contribute to the framing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and engage in new collaborations in the field of sustainable development solutions with other institutions interested in Mediterranean and global sustainability issues.
Follow the MED Solutions Network conference on Twitter @ #MEDSOL13.
"I’ve always been driven by opportunities where analysis and knowledge generation can impact policies."
Derek joined Global Footprint Network this month to lead analytics on resource accounting and the implications for policy and sustainability solutions. An economist with a Ph.D. from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, he brings more than 20 years of experience in undertaking research that informs and drives decision makers.
Prior to joining Global Footprint Network, Derek was Executive Director of the Centre for International Environmental Studies at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. Before that, Derek served as a core member of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative, where he managed the integrated modeling assessment in UNEP’s 2011 flagship report, "Towards a Green Economy." He also has worked for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). See his full bio here.
In the following Q&A, Derek talks to us about his professional journey, the importance of behavior change in achieving sustainability, the first project for the United Nations that he is leading on our team.
What motivated you to embark on a career in sustainability?
Derek: It goes back to my youth, which was spent in Canada. I was fortunate enough to be able to appreciate the natural world from a young age. I learned how dependent we are on nature through canoe camping trips and backpacking trips. You have to be really careful about your resources, and leave as little a Footprint as possible on that beautiful wilderness that you enjoy. Dealing with all sorts of threats like bears also brings you back to reality as far as being one species among other species.
Then I spent a big part of my studies looking at how to alleviate poverty and promote development. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission Report on the environment and development, which was commissioned by the United Nations, came out. It coined and defined the meaning of the term "sustainable development" and introduced the concept in the international policy discussion. I was still a student, at a time when the awareness of the scientific community about global climate change was growing. The two came together for me—on the one hand my interest in contributing to understand how more people could enjoy a better standard of living, and on the other hand the growing recognition that resources are finite. I chose my path at that intersection between economics and sustainability.
Derek: What are the main challenges you have encountered in the field of sustainability?
The one challenge that I’ve come to appreciate more and more is the need to bring to discussions about sustainability the understanding that social scientists and economists have about human behavior. At the end of the day, we’re talking about the need for changes in behavior both in production and consumption patterns. Yet we can’t just decree those things. We need to understand how people’s behavior is resistant to change, and how we go about guiding the necessary evolution to support a sustainability agenda. Even 25 years ago, that was the appeal of that field to me as an economist. I could see that there was so much potential for contribution. It’s been a long path, and I can see some improvements. Nevertheless, it remains at the core of the challenge of how we can devise a transition to more sustainable pathways. It is about fully appreciating and bringing in the human element at the center.
Derek: What progress have you witnessed over the span of your career?
There has been substantial progress, even though we’re not moving fast enough on some key issues. If we look at some of the big global issues, to see how far we’ve come and how much resources we have invested in understanding the science and identifying the set of solutions to keep temperatures within the acceptable threshold—that’s a fantastic array of human resources!
Also, I find there’s been an incredible growth in awareness. The knowledge that my two teenage daughters are acquiring already through the formal education system about challenges that we’re facing with regard to sustainability, both at the global and local level, together with many opportunities for them to be inspired to take action, is phenomenal. Sustainability has become very much embedded in the values of youth today in the richer countries. That’s also a tremendous achievement.
We keep seeing incremental improvements at the local level. One example that astounds me is cycling. When I was living in London 20 years ago, I was looked down upon by my colleagues as crazy because I used to ride my bicycle to work. Now, I can’t believe the number of cycle paths and lanes that have been deployed in that city over the past decade, and how many people have taken up cycling as a mode of transport. In Geneva and in Paris, you see something similar. To me, it is really indicative that people can change behavior at an incredible scale within less than a generation.
Derek: How did Global Footprint Network show up as the next step in your career?
I’ve always been driven by opportunities where analysis and knowledge generation can impact policies whether in governments or other stakeholders—what is called the science-policy interface. I have worked in organizations on both sides of that interface, either undertaking research at the demand of specific groups of stakeholders, or understanding from within national governments or international agencies how constraints and opportunities work internally within those organizations and for the constituencies they serve.
In my previous role at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, I was working at the frontier of academic knowledge but also getting antsy to be close to that science-policy interface again in a way that truly drives the agenda. Global Footprint Network has a fantastic track record and reputation for helping frame the agenda with crucial questions for the transition to a more sustainable world.
Also, I started my career as an economist in sustainability in the area of natural resources accounting. I find that the accounting tools provide an essential component of how we can link sustainability and economics. Global Footprint Network has recently added to the natural resource accounting some innovative economic and policy analysis that is based on, and building on, the Footprint Accounts. It is a very appealing fit to my background.
Derek: What is the first big project that you’re working on?
One achievement of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 was the creation of the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) to assess economic and environmental interactions. It is now a standard that is being implemented by all governments with the support of the World Bank in developing countries. As natural accounting initiatives are emerging in the private sector and in the financial institutions, it is important to promote a better understanding of each other’s frameworks, and possibly improve the alignment between the three worlds.
In this context, we’ve been requested by UNEP TEEB to undertake a scoping analysis of those initiatives, with a particular focus on interaction points with national public initiatives. We will identify how those dots can be connected from the point of view of data exchange and aggregation, and what opportunities are emerging for those connections to be realized. We will be presenting our report late June at the United Nations Statistics Division in New York.
Earth Day’s 45th anniversary is being celebrated today around the world. On this day--less than one-third into the calendar year--humanity already has used about half of all renewable natural resources and services that the planet can generate this year, according to Global Footprint Network’s data. Despite this sobering fact, let’s not lose sight of the many signs that a perfect storm is brewing for 2015 to be the most exciting year to date for sustainability.
All eyes are on the Paris Climate Summit, a much-anticipated event which is already boasting the tag line "For a universal climate agreement." Some 23 years after the first Rio Summit and 18 years after the historic Kyoto Protocol was signed, the nations of the world are closer than ever before to making a binding commitment to act on climate change. If the negotiations are successful, that commitment would entail a clear, shared goal (maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range,) detailed action plans and a timeline.
Meanwhile, China’s coal imports in the first quarter of this year have dropped by nearly half compared to the same period last year—a significant feat for the world’s biggest consumer of coal. China’s economic slowdown is partially responsible for the trend. It is also no accident that China added 11GW of solar capacity last year (enough to power 6 million homes) and led the world in terms of investments into renewable energy—up 32 percent from 2013, according to the market research firm Business Monitor International. BMI expects China to keep up the pace this year in terms of both added renewable capacity and investment growth.
Governments never act as quickly as activists, consumers and scientists want them to. This being said, they have been investing huge efforts and resources, reaching significant momentum leading up to the Climate Summit in Paris.
In Latin America, Costa Rica has reached a carbon-free power grid. After decades of expanding its reliance on hydropower, the small tropical nation has been able so far this year to generate 100 percent of its electricity from hydro, geothermal and wind.
Last but not least, citizens themselves haven’t been sitting idle. The courtroom is an especially interesting space to watch. Various lawsuits that were filed in the United States and abroad a couple of years ago to hold governments accountable for insufficient action on climate change are ready for primetime. Earlier this month oral arguments were heard by a judge in Oregon. The plaintiffs are teenagers supported by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. Its goal is to have the courts acknowledge that the atmosphere is part of the commons and, as such, should be protected by governments as mandated by the principle of common law known as Public Trust Doctrine. The judge is expected to render a decision later this year.
Plaintiffs in all above-mentioned cases were given a clear victory last month when an international working group of current and former judges, advocates, and professors adopted the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations. The legal experts aim to publicly send governments and enterprises back to their legal responsibilities and obligations on climate change as defined by well-established laws—human rights law, international law, environmental law, and tort law. And they argue, to quote The Guardian, that any new international agreement will just be a coda to obligations already present, pressing and unavoidable in existing law.
Obviously, a tremendous amount of work remains to be done. Carbon is only one part of the story. The plight of forests and oceans, ecosystems degradation, access to water, growing social inequities—to name but a few—are giving no rest to countless activists, government officials, research organizations, consumers and businesses around the world. Let’s acknowledge all the good news, however, and celebrate them, so we can confidently hold onto the vision of all people living well, within the means of nature.
Despite over $150 billion being spent annually in development globally, virtually nobody is tracking whether the achieved progress can last, or whether it is becoming increasingly fragile without the necessary access to nature’s resources.
But this is changing. The United Nations Development Programme’s latest flagship publication, its Human Development Report 2013, prominently features countries’ performance as proposed by Global Footprint Network: how much human well-being do countries generate (as measured by the UNDP’s Human Development Index) at what level of resource demand (as measured by the Ecological Footprint).
The Report reads:
“To sustain progress in human development, far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. The goal is high human development and a low ecological footprint per capita. Only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.”
It is a significant step for a leading UN agency to question business-as-usual models of development and explore alternatives. In the past, the report included Ecological Footprint results in its background data table, but this year UNDP used our HDI-Footprint graph to prominently show how far away the world is from meeting the sustainable development challenge, using simple metrics.
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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?
Around 600 guests from government, business, civil society and the arts gathered at a gala in Basel, Switzerland on Friday, March 1, to celebrate stewards of sustainability. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Nature and Culture – the Future We Want!” and the highlight of the evening was the announcement of the 2013 Prix NATURE Swisscanto Prize winners.
This Swiss Sustainability Award recognizes outstanding achievements advancing sustainable development in Switzerland and is presented in three categories: Grand Prize, Generation Future, and Beacons of Hope.
The Grand Prize was awarded to Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, in recognition of co-developing Ecological Footprint accounting and helping to bring the tool to governments and institutions across the world.
In 2012 alone, we engaged with 18 national governments and several international institutions, conducted numerous presentations and workshops and received multiple awards (the Blue Planet Prize, the Binding Prize for Nature and the Kenneth E. Boulding Memorial Award).
In October, we highlighted the increasingly worrisome ecological debt of the Mediterranean nations at a two-day international conference in Venice, participated in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Laos, presented to a working session on the environment in the Greek Parliament, launched a preliminary Ecological Footprint atlas of Francophone nations, conducted a workshop with the Turkish government on Competitiveness 2.0 and Ecological Footprint accounting, and met with government ministries in Colombia after a conference on sustainable tourism.
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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).
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.
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Global Footprint Network is advancing the science of sustainability by engaging with governments and other institutions to measure and track their Ecological Footprint. We also know the importance of making sustainability accessible and exciting to the widest number of people. That’s why we are thrilled with the Sky Race World Cup—it provides a fresh and energetic, as well as beautiful, way to symbolize our striving towards sustainability (and ending ecological overshoot).
The Skyrace will feature twenty sailplanes that race 200-300 kilometers through spectacular and remote regions. By emphasizing our reliance on the sun and wind and the potential for further harnessing that power, the Sky Race World Cup transforms a sophisticated engine-less aerial world championship into an inspirational and fun way to envision a future where humanity thrives within ecological limits.
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The book challenges the dominant thesis of contemporary economics: Growth at any cost. Authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill start from the observation that the world economy, as it is currently run, is causing long-term environmental, societal and economic damage. They go on to map out alternative paths toward a steady-state economy (an economy with stable or mildly fluctuating size), one that prioritizes human well-being above growth and places economic activity squarely within ecological limits.
The authors argue compellingly that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a rather poor indicator of progress, ignoring significant aspects of human flourishing as well as externalizing costs such as air pollution or soil degradation. Several alternatives indicators to GDP are taking off. Among those mentioned in the book are the European Commission’s Beyond GDP initiative, the OECD’s Better Life Initiative, the Ecological Footprint, the Genuine Progress Indicator, the U.K.‘s Sustainable Development Indicators, the Happy Planet Index, and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Indeed, the Ecological Footprint is one tool for helping nations move beyond the narrow GDP-focus that is helping to exacerbate the trends of ecological overshoot over the past few decades. As the authors say, “‘We manage what we measure’ is a cliché often uttered in business boardrooms, but it rings true. You could also say that we ‘mismanage what we mismeasure.’” Insofar as we are not measuring our demand on and capacity to provide ecological resources, we are mismanaging not only our economies, but our future.
Dietz is editor of Daly News and was the first director of CASSE (Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy); O’Neill is lecturer in ecological economics at the University of Leeds and the chief economist at CASSE.