Footprint Network Blog - Ecological Limits

Achtung, Liebe Schweiz!

01/22/2017 10:07 AM


The carbon concentration in the atmosphere is rising fast; the Paris Climate Agreement requires us to leave the fossil fuel economy well before 2050; and Earth Overshoot Day is already in early August. Could it be that climate change and resource constraints do have an influence on countries’ future performance? Should they wait for others to act? Are they too small to act? Or, might they be too exposed to wait? Thanks to a grant from Stiftung Mercator Schweiz and Paul Schiller Stiftung, we had the chance to explore these questions for Switzerland. Building on three workshops, we developed “Achtung, Liebe Sweiz!” or “Watch Out, Dear Switzerland!”—a proposal that identifies the challenges and proposes steps Switzerland, or any country, could take to increase its likelihood of future success.

At least 36% of Swiss voters embraced the idea to manage Switzerland’s Footprint in last September’s historical referendum on Switzerland’s green economy. They endorsed the idea that by 2050, Switzerland should have Footprints that would fit on one Earth (rather than on the 3 it currently takes). But many may have judged such a transformation to be too fast, too large, or just not necessary enough. We, though, believe it is a productive investment. After all, it is up to each nation, each government, to set themselves up for prosperity in the face of emerging risks linked to climate change and resource constraints. In this respect, we believe Switzerland is not too small to act. On the contrary, if Switzerland believes that the global trends are unmovable, there is nothing smarter than to prepare itself for such a world. If anything, because the wildly successful Swiss economy needs over four times more than what Swiss ecosystems can regenerate, we believe it is too exposed to wait. And the issue can be addressed, in a financially beneficial way. This is what we argue in our action plan. What’s true for Switzerland is true for other countries. We would be thrilled to get your feedback. Please send us your comments and criticisms to info@footprintnetwork.org.

Categories: Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


North Rhine-Westphalia Releases First Ecological Footprint Analysis of a German State

01/22/2017 09:34 AM

If the global population lived like citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), we would need 3.3 Earths, according to a report presented by the German state’s environmental minister in a press conference in Düsseldorf in December.

The Ecological Footprint was the headline indicator of the Fourth NRW Environmental Report, presented by NRW Environment Minister Johannes Remmel and widely covered by German media, including WDR, Westdeutsche Zeitung, and SAT.1 NRW (video). The report also was distributed to members of the state parliament and cabinet.

“Wir üben eine Herrschaft über künftige Generationen aus, die nicht mehr über ihre Ressourcen entscheiden können,” Minister Remmel said. (English translation: “We are reigning over future generations that can no longer decide about their resources.”)

The report contains the first Ecological Footprint analysis of the most populous German state and finds that North-Rhine Westphalia needs more than five times the amount of resources than its own ecosystems are able to renew.

“If we consume more than what nature can renew, it leads inevitably to over-exploitation and ecological deterioration, ultimately undermining our economies’ ability to operate,” notes Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. An essay by Wackernagel opened the report, which also featured the Ecological Footprint assessment in addition to nearly 30 other environmental indicators.

With an Ecological Footprint of 5.8 global hectares (gha) per person, the people of North Rhine-Westphalia demand on average about 9 percent more from nature than the German citizen, according to the report. The global average Ecological Footprint is 2.8 gha per person. But there are only 1.7 global hectares available per person worldwide.

Carbon emissions are a large driver of the region’s high Ecological Footprint. CO2 emissions average 10 tonnes per person in Germany and 16 tonnes in NRW. By comparison, carbon emissions in India average 1.5 tonnes per person per year.

North-Rhine Westphalia performs similarly to the German federal average in all aspects of consumption – with the exception of energy use. The reason for its large Footprint and less favorable results when compared with Germany overall is, in particular, the energy mix in North-Rhine Westphalia, or more specifically its carbon intensity of electricity. Electricity in North-Rhine Westphalia is often generated with carbon intensive lignite and stone coal.

Minister Remmel therefore called for an orderly exit from the coal industry.

In a press release, Minister Remmel added, “Allein diese Zahlen zeigen, dass wir die Ressourcensicherheit ernst nehmen sollten. Wir leben von der Substanz, die wir eigentlich unseren Kindern und Enkelkinder hinterlassen sollten. Wir müssen daher den Ressourcen-Verbrauch eindämmen, unter anderem durch die Entwicklung neuer effizienterer Technologien. Aber auch jede und jeder Einzelne kann dazu beitragen, dass Nordrhein-Westfalen dauerhaft zu einem besseren Ort mit vorbildlicher Umwelt- und Lebensqualität wird.”

(English translation: “These figures alone show that we should take resource security seriously, and we are living on the principal rather than the income of nature. We are reducing the substance that we should actually leave our children and grandchildren. We need to curb resource consumption, including by developing new, more efficient technologies. Each and every individual can help make North Rhine-Westphalia a better place with exemplary and lasting environmental and life quality.”

Report:
English chapter
Whole report (in German)

NRW Press Release (German)

Categories: Ecological Limits


New Report: Russia sees decline in ecological reserve since 2009

12/21/2016 08:19 AM

Russia is among a minority of countries with more natural resources than its population consumes. However, since 2009, that “ecological reserve” has declined 16 percent, indicating the start of a troubling trend.

Those are among the findings of a new report, “Ecological Footprint of the Russian Regions,” co-authored by Global Footprint Network and WWF-Russia and released in Moscow Dec. 21.

The second Russia Footprint Report, which follows the first report issued in October 2014, details the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of the country and Russian regions. The Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand on nature. It can be compared to biocapacity, a measure of a region’s biologically productive surfaces areas, including forests, cropland, pastures, and fishing grounds.

With 11.5 percent of the world’s landmass, Russia possesses 7.9 percent of the world’s biocapacity – a significant portion of our planet’s renewable resources. Of the world’s ten most populous countries, only Russia and Brazil had ecological reserves in 2012 (the latest year data is available). But Brazil’s reserves declined over 30 times faster than Russia’s reserves between 1992 and 2012.

However, Russia’s Ecological Footprint per person increased 9.1 per cent from 2009 to 2012, to 5.7 global hectares (gha) per person. And the country’s population is still consuming more than what is available per person worldwide. If every inhabitant of the Earth lived like Russians, humanity would need 3.3 planets to meet its demand. This is more than double than the current demand of humanity, corresponding 1.6 Earths, i.e., taking from the planet 60 percent faster than what the ecosystems can renew.

Meanwhile, Russia’s biocapacity per person decreased 3.2 percent from 2009 to 2012, to 6.8 gha per person.

The combined Ecological Footprint and biocapacity trends lead to a 16 percent decline in Russia’s ecological reserve from 2009 to 2012. This means that Russia’s Ecological Footprint is only 19 percent larger than its biocapacity.

“The recent jump in Russia’s Ecological Footprint indicates the country must be vigilant in managing its resource demands to maintain its ecological reserve and consequently its economic resilience,” says Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network.

“The reserves of natural capital are unevenly distributed on the territory of our country,” added Pavel Boev, Pavel Boev, senior program coordinator of WWF-Russia. “But even where the biological capacity is sufficient for human needs, it is important to remember that it must also ensure the existence of many wild animal species.”

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


Guiding Bold Sustainability Goals in Montenegro

11/07/2016 09:56 AM

In the wake of last month’s elections in Montenegro, we are confident the new government will maintain its commitment to the 3.5-year-long process of revising the country’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD), which, through many consultations with diverse stakeholders, resulted in the “NSSD until 2030” update being adopted by the government last summer.

Global Footprint Network has been collaborating closely with the government throughout the process, starting in February 2015, when we were first engaged by Montenegro’s Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism to assess the country’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity. This year, Global Footprint Network was also helped Montenegro develop a monitoring framework to guide and support progress of NSSD until 2030.

“The Ecological Footprint is an extremely useful indicator to ensure that socio-economic development succeeds without putting additional pressure on our valuable national resources, thus supporting Montenegro on its path to sustainability,” said Jelena Knezevic, Head of the Division for Sustainable Development and Integrated Management of Sea and Coastal Area, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro.

Findings

Global Footprint Network presented the findings of Montenegro’s Ecological Footprint study to the National Council on Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and Integrated Coastal Zone Management last December. Its co-chairs were President Filip Vujanović and then-Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Branimir Gvozdenović.

Our study found that Montenegro is currently using 45 percent more renewable natural resources than the nation’s ecosystems can regenerate. The country’s household consumption makes up 75 percent of the national Ecological Footprint. Although Montenegro enjoys one of the lowest ecological deficits in Europe, changing lifestyle and imports—which are increasing to keep up with raising consumption levels and improved lifestyles—are causing the national ecological deficit to widen.

Global Footprint Network has also calculated that carbon emissions, which require forests to be absorbed, make up 56 percent of Montenegro’s total Ecological Footprint.

The two biggest drivers of Montenegro’s Ecological Footprint are carbon-intensive transportation and food consumption. Therefore Global Footprint Network has recommended that policies addressing fuel efficiency and the food system be prioritized as a first step towards sustainability.

Visionary Sustainability Agenda

NSSD until 2030 sets up a visionary agenda for sustainability that is centered on the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. As such, it places Montenegro in the company of only 22 countries who have committed to conduct a national review of their planning process to enable implementing the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the national level. Among these, only a handful so far—including Montenegro and Colombia—have actually included SDGs in their national policy.

Goals set in NSSD until 2030 include:

These goals are the outcome of a long process that involved all government ministries, research and consultation with experts, and many consultations with local representatives, NGOs, and individual members of the public.

Next steps

Earlier this year, Montenegro’ Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism asked Global Footprint Network for support designing the monitoring and reporting framework of NSSD until 2030, so that progress towards sustainability can be monitored in the coming years. On July 7, the revised Montenegro’s NSSD (“NSSD until 2030”) was adopted by the government of Montenegro and moved to the implementation phase.

Next steps will include designing and implementing processes at the local level that move Montenegro closer to reaching its goals. In fact, a first workshop with stakeholders from local governments is expected to take place by early next year.

The Ministry, with Global Footprint Network’s help, also will work on a possible revision of the statistical legislation system to facilitate data collection and reporting, as well as the setting up and testing of an NSSD database and information reporting system.

Finally, the Ministry will continuously monitor the global SDGs process, keeping track of actual improvements in national indicators development, and it will set up pilot projects for some of the other composite indicators included in the NSSD monitoring framework to assess the feasibility of their introduction within the statistics system of Montenegro.

At Global Footprint Network, we envision a time when Montenegro shares best practices with other countries as they embark on their own path to sustainability.

More information

View the Eye on Earth webinar “Implementing SDGs at the national level: Montenegro’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development until 2030.” Speakers include Alessandro Galli — Senior Scientist and Mediterranean Program Director, Global Footprint Network and Jelena Knezevic — Head of Division Sustainable Development and Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, Government of Montenegro.

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


How Switzerland made history with green economy vote

Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network - 09/26/2016 01:47 PM

This weekend, Switzerland made world history, even though not as much as we would have liked.

Switzerland was the first country to vote on whether to implement a green economy. The green economy ballot initiative encouraged resource efficiency and implementation of a circular economy. On top of that, it set a specific goal – to reduce Switzerland’s resource consumption to a level that could be replicated worldwide. Currently we would need three Earths if everybody lived like the Swiss. The goal in the ballot initiative was to get to one Earth by 2050.

The Swiss constitution already recognizes the need to live within the means of nature. Article 73 states that the “Confederation and the Cantons shall endeavour to achieve a balanced and sustainable relationship between nature and its capacity to renew itself and the demands placed on it by the population.” But it does not set a deadline to achieve this goal.

The initiative created debate, some of which is documented on our new website (mostly German), www.achtung-schweiz.org (watch out, Switzerland). However, the biggest confusion in the debate was the following: is it in the self-interest of Switzerland to act aggressively?

A positive starting point was that most parties recognized the need to manage our resources carefully and that we have to live, ultimately, within the means of the planet – particularly if the “we” is humanity. Proponents claimed that to reach the 2-degrees Celsius goal adopted in the Paris climate agreement, Footprint reductions were required. They also argued that most innovations are spurred by ambitious goals, and that Switzerland’s environmental achievements in clean water and air were accelerated by aggressive political targets.

The green economy campaign was careful to not push fear, but to make it a positive, friendly, fun proposition. The opponents played the fear card, calling the initiative “expensive green coercion.” They said it would lead to cold showers (www.gruener-zwang.ch) and an import stop for cocoa. Opponents argued that 2050 is too soon, and that the transformation would be too harsh for the Swiss economy.

Interestingly enough, economic actors were divided. Some vigorously opposed while others, such as IKEA, favored a one-planet economy.

How did the vote turn out?

Early on, polling showed substantial positive interest, but as voters got closer to casting their ballot, the fear of change eroded the early advantage. Still, 36% of voters cast a “yes” for living within the means of one planet. Geneva was the only canton in Switzerland with a majority in favor of the initiative.

The fact that a country would hold such a vote, and that so many recognize the need for a significant shift in the way we use resources is a global historical precedent. We regret how little this significant debate was covered in world news. It is these topics we need to discuss when exploring how to build a future that works for all within the means of our one and only planet (until Elon Musk brings us to Mars…).

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


Big Ideas: Footprint calculator sparks provocative discussions at universities worldwide

Vivian Bi, Global Footprint Network - 08/24/2016 07:42 PM

Jessica Piekielek of Southern Oregon University asks sociology and anthropology students to calculate Footprints based in other countries to compare and discuss results.


Kirsten Balding at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, is a huge advocate of using Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint calculator to teach students about sustainability. “It is a really engaging way for students to measure their consumption of resources,” says Balding. “It’s a very clear and simple way of communicating a complex concept—that also presents solutions too!”

And she doesn’t just refer to the calculator in a single class session of her sustainability course, but refers to the results over the entirety of the course.

From Australia to the United States, university students and teachers across the world have contacted Global Footprint Network over the years to praise and offer ideas for improving the Ecological Footprint calculator.

It’s not only in environmental science courses that the Footprint calculator is proving a thought-provoking instructional tool. Jessica Piekielek, who teaches sociology and anthropology at Southern Oregon University, has taken advantage of the calculator in her Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class to talk about global population growth, development, and social inequality. “I especially appreciate that students can experiment with calculating Footprints based in other countries, so that we can compare results and discuss,” she notes.

Read Complete Article >

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Personal Footprint


One-planet living: Switzerland’s next commitment?

08/24/2016 02:17 AM

On September 25, Swiss voters will head to the polls to decide on a bold initiative to put Switzerland on the path of a green economy. Initiated by members of the Green Party and the Social Democrats, this ballot initiative builds on the Ecological Footprint: If passed, it will incorporate the sustainable use of natural resources into the country’s constitution, and becoming the first country in the world to commit to one-planet living by 2050.

Switzerland currently consumes four times what Swiss ecosystems can regenerate. And if everyone in the world lived like the Swiss, we would need 3.3 planets.

To reach one-planet living by 2050, the Swiss would have to reduce their average per-person Ecological Footprint by more than two thirds, to at most 1.7 global hectares. This is the current capacity of the world’s renewable resources on a per-person basis. (The target would actually fall even further if populations globally continue to rise.)

The Swiss initiative also calls for a “circular economy strategy,” including measures to adopt new product regulations, encourage recycling, and promote research and innovation.

Read Complete Article >

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


How do we measure sustainable development? Two new indexes, two very different views

07/20/2016 11:54 PM

It’s been a busy day for launching new country rankings. Today (July 20), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) released a 427-page report ranking countries by 77 indicators tied to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals approved last year. The SDG index averages countries’ performance on those goals. Each goal is assessed by a mélange of indicators, including poverty and obesity rate, traffic deaths, literacy rate, seats held by women in national parliament, access to water and electricity, unemployment, mobile broadband subscriptions, wastewater treatment, and carbon emissions.

How does compliance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals SDGs square with achieving development that can be sustained within the means of our planet? Ultimately, to be sustainable, development need to fit within our planet's resource budget. Therefore sustainable development can be mapped as development achievement, on the on hand, and resource demand, on the other.

The graph below summarizes the results. It shows the position of the top and bottom 10 countries on the SDG index in terms of their Human Development Index scores and their Ecological Footprints.

(Click image to enlarge)

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


Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator Scores High Marks in High Schools

Vivian Bi, Global Footprint Network - 07/20/2016 09:58 PM

Reports card’s out! High schools around the world are starting to integrate the Footprint calculators into their curriculums. Governments and organizations, including the United Nations and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are also catching on to the importance of environmental education in meeting long-term sustainability goals.

So how did today’s students do on the quiz? Teachers found that students were often times surprised at how large their Footprint was compared to others, leaving even the most eco-conscious students wondering what more they can do to protect Earth. By putting into perspective their own footprints, students can understand their personal impact on the world’s resources and begin to make choices that will collectively change the course of our future.

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Personal Footprint


Can China transform into an ecological civilization?

07/05/2016 10:31 PM

Creating an economy that operates in harmony with nature is the centerpiece of China President Xi Jinpig’s vision of transforming the country into an ecological civilization.

Can China become such a civilization?

To find out, we engaged with the Province of Guizhou. We are launching the results of our close collaboration with the province on Wednesday, July 6, at the EcoForum Global conference with a report titled "The Guizhou Footprint Report: Metrics for an Ecological Civilization."

Without a doubt, China is facing steep challenges: growing resource demand far beyond its own ecological resources and services; heavy dependence on fossil fuels; and growing expectations among citizens, with many people, particularly in rural areas, still needing to be lifted out of harsh economic conditions.

The Guizhou Footprint Report was created with financial support from the Swiss government. With mountainous ecosystems, rich biodiversity, and diverse people, Guizhou Province is a unique region of China that shares geographic similarities with Switzerland. So the report also includes a comparison of the two countries, China and Switzerland.

Here are some findings that highlight the challenges that Guizhou is facing:

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Government, Our Partners’ Work


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