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Issue 24, July 27, 2010  

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About Global Footprint Network
Our mission is to promote a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers.

Advisory Council
E.O. Wilson
Manfred Max-Neef
Rhodri Morgan
David Suzuki
Emil Salim
Julia Marton-Lefèvre
William E. Rees
Lester Brown
Jorgen Randers
M S Swaminathan
Daniel Pauly
Eric Garcetti
Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker
Michael Meacher
Karl-Henrik Robèrt
Will Steffen
Dominique Voynet
Fabio Feldman
Oscar Arias
Peter Raven
Mick Bourke
Norman Myers
Gus Speth
Stephen Groff
Thomas E. Lovejoy

Footprint Forum 2010: Addressing the Global Resource Challenge

Global Footprint Network recently completed our second Partner Network Conference, Footprint Forum 2010, held in Colle di Val d’Elsa, just outside of Siena, Italy from June 7-12 2010 in conjunction with the EcoDynamics Group of the University of Siena. Participants included decision-makers, experts and scientists from around the world. From Ann Cotton, to Peter Victor, to Hannes Kunz, our diverse list of guest speakers shared presentations on crucial issues such as peak oil, the importance of education, and re-tooling our economic system – all in relation to our ecological resources. Together, we discussed challenges and opportunities that all of us face in a world of growing resource constraints.

Below are just a few of the stories that emerged from the conference.

(To view speaker presentations, download the full book of abstracts and obtain other supporting material from the conference visit our Footprint Forum 2010 Web page.)

Forum Opens With Examples of Nations Leading the Way

“Politicians are caught in a dilemma between political suicide and ecological suicide,” Dr. Mathis Wackernagel told the gathering of 200 scientists, economists, and government and business leaders during Footprint Forum’s opening plenary session. What most policy-makers have failed to realize is that those countries that can maintain a positive ecological balance will have a large advantage in a world facing climate change and ecological limits, he said. United Nations Environment Programme representative Haroldo Mattos de Lemos put it another way: “Businesses plan for next decade. Governments plan for the next election.”

(Download Presentations from Opening Plenary)

But some countries are already taking action to address their ecological balance sheet, and attendees heard from two such countries: the UAE which has very low biocapacity and yet has the highest per capita Ecological Footprint in the world, and Ecuador, which has an extremely rich biocapacity that it wants to maintain.

UAE: Large demand, Little Biocapacity

The United Arab Emirates is one of the countries with the largest deficits between “income” in the form of biocapacity and “expenses” of resources, Razan Al Mubarak, Director, Emirates Wildlife Society, told attendees. In 2007, the country adopted a national Ecological Footprint Initiative to address that gap.

In the latter 20th century, the UAE enjoyed explosive economic growth, largely due to the production of oil and gas, and that wealth has helped support some of the largest per-capita resource consumption in the world. On the other hand, the country has very low biocapacity, and must import most of its resources from abroad. When UAE leaders learned the country topped the world in per-capita Ecological Footprint, they were at first skeptical of the data, Mubarak said. But with support from local NGOs advancing the Footprint Initiative, “there became increasing understanding of and support for the data. From there, there became fantastic momentum toward, ‘what are we going to do about it?’


Protecting Ecuador’s Natural Wealth

With the richest biodiversity in the world per hectare, Ecuador has abundant natural capital. But in the last 50 years, it’s ecological surplus has dwindled to almost zero. Its Ecological Footprint currently is almost equal to its biocapacity, the amount of resources the land and sea area within its borders is able to produce.

Dania Quirola Suarez, Advisor to the National Secretary of Planning and Development of Ecuador, told attendees of an important step Ecuador has taken to address its ecological balance sheet. It has included the metric in its National Development Plan, setting a target to reduce the nation’s Footprint to a level at or below biocapacity by 2013.

In keeping with that commitment, Ecuador has launched a plan to keep 846 million barrels of oil under the Amazon rainforest permanently in the ground, Suarez told attendees. The plan would keep 407 metric tones of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and preserve one million acres of forest preserved. It also preserves the livelihood of those belonging to the indigenous cultures from the region. “In this way, we can move from an extractive economy to sustainable development, that includes broader use of energy sources and increasing social equity,” Suarez said.

(Download Quirola’s Presentation)

Learn more about Ecuador’s Ecological Footprint Initiative

   The town of Colle di Val d'Elsa  
Mediterranean Initiative Addresses Region’s Ecological Deficit

The Mediterranean region has been rocked this year by an economic crisis resulting from over-extension of financial resources. But Greece, Italy and other countries of the Mediterranean face another yawning deficit – an ecological deficit – that poses deep-seeded risks to the region’s long-term success. On the opening day of Footprint Forum, Global Footprint Network announced the launch of its Mediterranean Initiative to address and potentially reverse this trend.

The End of the Cheap Oil Era

There is no cheap-oil future for us, and if humanity doesn’t make the transition to a sustainable energy source, Mother Nature will.  Robert Rapier, Chief Technology Officer of Merica International, issued this warning during an opening presentation at Footprint Forum aimed at providing a briefing in some of the ways we are hitting ecological limits.

According to Rapier, we are reaching the point at which rising human demand for oil is outpacing our ability to discover new sources of oil. As populations grows and large segments of humanity seek to improve their standard of living, supply will simply not be able to keep up with demand, driving the price of oil up and availability down.

According to Rapier, peak oil—when oil production rates begin an irreversible decline – will have a direct effect on global warming. “When there’s a decline in oil production, the first thing we do is turn to coal plants and tar sands,” he said. “We will demand that because we have built a society on cheap oil. But eventually fossil fuels will run out.” That would address the problem of climate change, he said, but most likely not in the way people would like to see it solved.

Feeding 9 Billion Is Possible but Not Easy

Feeding the 9 billion people projected by mid-century is possible, but doing so will require major economic and political changes, Juan Gonzales-Valero of agri-business leader Syngenta said on the second day at the conference. Gonzales-Valero presented the findings of Vision 2050, an effort by the World Business Council of Sustainable Development, representing 29 of the world’s most influential companies, to develop pathways to a one-planet economy by 2050.

Can Educating Girls Also Ease Environmental Pressures?

Among the many benefits of educating girls in Africa is its potential for reducing population pressure, Camfed International Director Ann Cotton said at the Footprint Forum Conference public day. Girls’ education has moved center stage from being viewed as a gender and equality issue to one that is increasingly seen as central to global security and the elimination of poverty, Cotton said.  “Every child is born to a mother, and when a child is born to a mother who is not educated, that child is at a disadvantage from the start.”

Countries with Healthy Ecological Balance Sheets May Be Better Able to Pay Back Debts

Countries with healthy ecological balance sheets make for safer investments and will be better able to meet their debt obligations—so says Balacz Magyar, a representative of Swiss-based private banking firm Sarasin Bank. The bank, with 63.2 billion worth of assets under management, has implemented a system of rating country bonds based on sustainability and Ecological Footprint. Countries are required to meet a minimum resource efficiency and availability threshold to be eligible for inclusion in certain portfolios. “We believe that only these countries will be able to pursue the economic activities they will need to pay back their debts in the long-run,” said Balazs Magyar, Head of Sustainable Investment Portfolio Management for Sarasin. High foreign and public debt means conceding future resources to someone else, he said, and the issue is similar for ecological as for economic debt.

Read more about Sarasin’s Sustainability Ratings.

A Model For Cutting Poverty, Boosting Jobs—Without Economic Growth

Relatively rich countries may need to manage no-growth economies to avoid pushing the planet toward disaster, but there are ways to manage such a transition so that it actually improves quality of life, York University economist Peter Victor, author of Managing Without Growth, told attendees at the public day of Footprint Forum 2010. Victor spoke at a panel discussion called Rethinking Growth, which addressed the paradox of our current economic models, which are dependent upon continued growth, with the ecological cost and, ultimately, physical impossibility of such models in a world of limited resources.

Download Victor’s presentation. (Note: files have been modified for pdf format. Some images may not display.)