Footprint Network Blog - Our Partners’ Work
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.
The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) measures a country’s average achievements in the areas of health, knowledge, and standard of living. An HDI higher than 0.8 is considered "very high human development." The Ecological Footprint tells us how much of the earth’s bioproductive areas are needed to provide for that development. An Ecological Footprint less than 1.7 global hectares per person makes a country’s resource demands globally replicable.
What this graph shows is that fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals is no guarantee for sustainability. The top-ranked nations on the SDG index all have high Ecological Footprints. If everyone in the world lived like them, we would need more than three planets. In fact, it seems that there may be a tension as material development achievements are far more prominent in the SDGs than the need to preserve the underlying natural capital.
This leads us to the second sustainability index that came out today: the Happy Planet Index from the New Economics Foundation. This index has far fewer ingredients than the SDSN index: The HPI is based on a ratio of a country’s wellbeing measurements (such as life expectancy, equality and satisfaction) divided by its Ecological Footprint. It measures who gets the best lives per unit of renewable natural resource.
The Happy Planet Index results differ markedly from the SDSN index: The top country is Costa Rica, home to amazing biodiversity and residents who have higher well-being than the residents of many higher-income countries, including the US and the UK. Residents in Costa Rica also live longer than Americans. All this is achieved with an Ecological Footprint per person that is one third of the American Ecological Footprint and a GDP per capita that is less than a quarter of that of many Western European and North American countries.
Perhaps the adage money doesn’t buy happiness holds true after all. Or does the SDSN index suggest otherwise?
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:
- In 2012, With a per capita annual income of 18,700 yuan (2,852 US dollars) and Ecological Footprint of 1.72 global hectares (gha) per capita, Guizhou has the fifth lowest per capita income among China’s provinces and the sixth lowest per capita Ecological Footprint. The Ecological Footprint averages 3.4 global hectares per person in China and 5.8 global hectares per person in Switzerland. The latest findings in this report, indicate the Ecological Footprint has grown to 1.98 gha per capita.
- In Guizhou, 51% of the Footprint comes from private and government sector investment in lasting assets while the remaining 49% of the Footprint comes from household consumption, which includes food, housing, mobility, and goods and services. In China, 47% of the Footprint comes from private and government sector investment while the remaining 53% comes from household consumption. By contrast, in Switzerland, 29% of the Footprint comes from private investment and 71% comes from household consumption.
- Guizhou’s score on the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI), which measures human well-being, was calculated to be 0.62, which is below the goal of 0.7 for high development and below the average in China, at 0.73.
Our work in Guizhou builds on the China Ecological Footprint Reports published by WWF China in collaboration with Global Footprint Network. Together, Global Footprint Network and WWF China are approaching other provinces in China about incorporating the Ecological Footprint into their work. Our next meeting is with the province of Sichuan.
Global Footprint Network also has a close relationship with the China Academy of Sciences (IGSNRR). There already have been dozens (if not more) Ecological Footprint papers published in international scientific journals by Chinese academics. Global Footprint Network is seeking to accelerate the Chinese academic leadership in applying and furthering Ecological Footprint accounting.
For more information about our work in China, visit www.zujiwangluo.org or www.chinafootprint.org. Download the Guizhou Footprint Report in English here or in Chinese here. A two-page summary of the report is also available in Chinese here.
To mark International Day for Biological Diversity, Global Footprint Network is proud to support its partner Earthmind’s innovative program to boost ecosystems’ restoration and biodiversity conservation around the world, mitigating the Ecological Footprint.
What if conserving biodiversity wasn’t just the prerogative of national parks and protected areas? What if conserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems could also be the responsibility of every local government, every business, every community and every individual with stewardship over a productive piece of land? And what if we could recognize and encourage communities, companies and others who conserve nature?
This vision is no pie in the sky. It has been guiding the Verified Conservation Areas (VCA) Approach launched two years ago by Francis Vorhies, the former CEO of Earthwatch Institute Europe and Chief Economist of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“To protect our planet, we need to conserve through management, not just legislation. The VCA approach is about supporting and promoting the sustainable management of productive landscapes, including farms, forests, and even golf courses—not just national parks,” explains Dr. Vorhies, a conservation veteran.
Global Footprint Network and Earthmind, the organization founded by Dr. Vorhies, are partnering in order to implement and promote the VCA approach as an inclusive measure for area-based conservation.
How the VCA idea works
The VCA approach is a voluntary program for recognizing area-based conservation. It offers transparency and accountability to area managers thoroughly listing VCAs on a public registry. Access to the VCA Registry is set out in the VCA Standard, which details what needs to be done to get and remain listed.
To register an area, a VCA-compliant conservation management plan and associated third-party audit are required. To remain listed, an annual conservation performance report and associated audit is required. VCA plans, reports and audits are all publicly available on the Registry to inform stakeholders, including funders of the area’s conservation efforts and outcomes.
“It is very hard today to recognize sustainable land management efforts in the private sector or by local communities. Yet a recognition label can go a long way toward building up conservation as an asset,” Dr. Vorhies explains.
In fact, the VCA Registry is designed to make it easier to “buy conservation.” Environmentally minded consumers (individuals or organizations) can discover what suppliers of goods and services deserve their business because of their conservation efforts. Or they can identify VCA projects they wish to donate to or invest in.
“Our goal is to create a supply of conservation projects around the world that people anywhere can support,” says Dr. Vorhies. “We hope to turn conservation into an area for beneficial transaction opportunities to mitigate ecological overshoot.”
Vorhies is careful to stress that the definition of “conservation” used in the concept of a Verified Conservation Area is the one presented in the path-breaking 1980 IUCN World Conservation Strategy document. It includes not only restoration but also the “sustainable utilization” of land as a “positive” action “embracing preservation” for the sake of future generations.
As an example, a recent VCA project proposal was issued by the Dutch water company Vitens and five other landowners. The area is a narrow, 15-hectare strip of land called Lizards Lane in the Netherlands to be developed and managed as an ecological heathland corridor to enhance the viability of local populations of amphibians and reptiles. A detailed plan will have to be submitted within two years for the project to be listed as “registered.”
Seeking critical mass
Boosting conservation efforts on the global scale is nothing short of a pressing priority. Growing human population and increasing levels of prosperity keep intensifying the pressures on biodiversity. Current conservation efforts are insufficient to address the ever-increasing global Ecological Footprint.
On the bright side, the global community has committed to conserving 17 percent of terrestrial areas and to restoring 15 percent of degraded ecosystems by 2020 under the international Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. This commitment was reconfirmed in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in September 2015.
Furthermore, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group that finances and provides advice for private sector ventures and projects in developing countries, has included eight environmental performance standards in its lending policy. Performance Standard 6 addresses biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of living natural resources.
“The current international policy framework is technically sufficient to allow for the acceleration of conservation efforts everywhere. What we mainly need at this stage is transparency, accountability and scaling up of best practice,” points out Sebastian Winkler, Vice President Programme and Outreach at Global Footprint Network. He also helps with VCA development efforts.
The challenge ahead is as daunting as the opportunity. Since launching the VCA initiative about two years ago, Dr. Vohries and his team have attracted a dozen of projects on four continents to its registry. The initiative has been relying solely on the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, and is seeking a wider funding base to grow its clout and expand its reach.
Fortunately, the tipping point may be at hand. Conversations with financial institutions including Credit Suisse are picking up momentum. Investment facility Althelia Ecosphere recently expressed interest in piloting VCA projects in its portfolio. And if the team’s development efforts follow their due course, the two-year experiment may blossom as early as the end of this month into a full-fledged global initiative backed by governments and international agencies.
All eyes on the second session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly
Less than a month ago, Dr. Vorhies hosted a side event at the 20th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-20) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international body created in 1993 in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The 40 participants in attendance, who were comprised of government and international NGO representatives, showed keen interest in VCA’s conservation solution.
Dr. Vorhies and his team are intent on capitalizing on that surge of interest quickly. Eight months after the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in New York, the United Nations is reconvening this week in Nairobi (UNEA-2) to discuss budgets and priorities with regard especially to further sustainable production and consumption. The goal is to have VCA taken in consideration as an official UN-approved tool to protect biodiversity, with a view to have it introduced at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP13) to the CBD this December in Cancun, Mexico.
UNEA-2, we hope, will prove pivotal for VCA, thanks to the official endorsement by a non-European—yet to be announced—government, and the public launch of the VCA Coalition by a multi-stakeholder group.
UPDATE (May 28, 2016): The VCA Coalition was launched on May 27 in Nairobi at the signing ceremony of this Letter of Intent. All partners are committed to helping promote, further develop and secure the sustained and increase use of the VCA Approach as a contribution to sustainable land management in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Global Footprint Network first began encouraging greater environmental risk integration into bond credit analysis five years ago. Since then, a growing number of fixed income investors are following suit. We are particularly delighted by the recent announcement PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), an influential investor group who is calling on credit rating agencies to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into their credit analysis more systematically and transparently.
Some of the world’s major rating agencies last June confirmed their willingness to participate in a project to make this vision a reality. Now the PRI is calling on fixed-income investors to sign a Statement on ESG in Credit Ratings before its official launch on Friday, May 6, to be at forefront of this call to action.
Together with our partner Earth Day Network, we’re happy to give trees a special nod today.
At Global Footprint Network, we have a soft spot for trees and forests. They are an essential pool of biodiversity. And they are one of our most important ecological assets: A whopping 70 percent of humanity’s Ecological Footprint is comprised of demand for forest products (paper, timber, etc.) and carbon capture, an ecological service that forests provide.
In fact, even if the whole Earth were covered with forests, we still wouldn’t have enough to meet our current demand for their products and services…Besides, we obviously need to leave some productive land available for crops to feed us.
Would you believe this colorful Footprint image above was created from actual origami pieces? This charming depiction of the Ecological Footprint was used in “The Ecological Footprint for Sustainable Living in Japan” that we produced with WWF Japan last year. We tip our hats to Almazora Carla Marie Hugo, Trina D.Dela Rama and Rina Malonzo of Tink Tank Studio for their labor of love spent to produce the origami pieces.
Japan’s Ecological Footprint is smaller than it was 10 years ago, but the country still demands more from nature than its own ecosystems can renew. In fact, today, Feb. 21, marks the national ecological deficit day for Japan. Its citizens’ demand for the goods and services that its land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing and carbon dioxide absorption—now exceeds what Japan’s ecosystems can renew over the full year. Japan’s high population density is one key contributor to its ecological deficit; per person consumption is another contributor.
Beijing, China–Global Footprint Network launched the beta version of a new website, www.zujiwangluo.org, on Nov. 12 to build on and support the growing interest in the Ecological Footprint among partners and practitioners in government and academia throughout China.
The website, a core element of our Footprint initiatives in China, was launched today to support WWF China’s Living Planet Report-China 2015. The report, to which Global Footprint Network contributed, shows that in less than two generations time, China’s per-person demand on nature has more than doubled. This increase in demand went hand in hand with a substantial loss in the abundance of wild species: The average population size of China’s terrestrial vertebrates declined by half from 1970 to 2010.
Global Footprint Network’s new China website aims to serve as a collaboration platform for practitioners in government and academia in China who share the common goal of making Ecological Footprint accounting and related tools as rigorous as possible to fulfill China’s vision of an ecological civilization. The website’s name means “footprint network” in Mandarin.
This is a series of blog posts titled "Making A Difference" where we highlight a different voice each week.
Throughout 2015, we have been eagerly awaiting the climate talks in Paris that began this week. Recent events have expanded the conversation to restoring peace, security and safety. To live in harmony and peace, however, we need to ensure a healthy world that guarantees all people have basic resource security. The link between climate change and national security continues to be more important than ever. Read more.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think, "What am I going to face today? What kind of issue will it be: fish kill, pollution from industry, or destruction from a typhoon?"
As the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, I am responsible for managing and protecting the environment one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the home of 25 million people, in the heart of the Philippines. Read Neurus' story.
Two years ago I decided against building my dream home after falling in love with the Ecological Footprint. A question for clearly measuring sustainability led me to this unique data-based approach to calculate humanity's impact on the planet, including my family's. Read Daniel's story.
Since I was a child growing up in southern Iran, years of severe drought have threatened the vitality of the rich farmland in my native Fars province, Iran’s traditional bread basket. Today, as a PhD student in agricultural development at Shiraz University in Iran, I am exploring innovative ways to help make agriculture sustainable in Iran, especially in the Fars province. Read Mahsa's story.
I had two passions as a kid: nature and technology. After starting as an electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), I realized my path lay elsewhere. Read David's story.
The United Nations launches global goals to achieve humanity’s collective dream: sustainable development
This week marks an extraordinary moment for humanity. Representatives of 193 nations are convening in New York at the United Nations to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals lay out the conditions we need to secure great lives on this one planet for all, regardless of income level, gender or ethnicity.
At a time when global economic uncertainty and human tragedy dominate the news cycle, this unique opportunity to bring the universal dream of sustainable development to the forefront of public attention worldwide is definitely worth celebrating.
We are pleased that the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre has proposed the Ecological Footprint as an SDG metric for Goal 12.2: "by 2030 achieve sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources."
And we can't help but ask the following question: How do we know whether all the SDG activities generate sustainable development? With the United Nations on the verge of adopting sustainable development as its central agenda, how do we know whether all the potential activities on the 169 goals are adding up to sustainable development?
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.