Footprint Network Blog - Ecological Limits
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.
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.
Overall, total forest biocapacity worldwide has declined by 5 percent since 1961, the earliest year reliable data is available. On a per-person basis, the decline is much greater, at 59 percent.
Brazil, Russia, the United States and Canada are the countries with the most forested land in the world today. Combined, they generate 54 percent of the renewable goods and services that all forests provide globally.
Protecting, restoring and maintaining forests is a significant responsibility of governments not just for the sake of their people, but for the world at large, as greenhouse gas emissions know no borders.
Of the top five countries with the highest forest biocapacity in the world, China has shown the most remarkable trend reversal, followed by the United States.
Planting trees is an important, wonderful mission to pursue. But at least as important is focusing on reducing the demand we put on forests. First and foremost: carbon sequestration. Because we produce more carbon than our forests can absorb, it accumulates in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Since we can never plant enough trees to mitigate climate change, the path is clear: we need to reduce our carbon emissions.
Click here for more information and graphs about the status of forests around the world.
How did you celebrate UN World Happiness Day last Sunday? All of us had plenty to chew on with the release of the World Happiness Report 2016—the fourth edition since 2012. Prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of economists, psychologists and public health experts convened by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the happiness ranking of 156 countries was based on individual responses to a global poll conducted by Gallup.
The scholars found that three-quarters of the variation across countries could be explained by six variables: gross domestic product per capita (the rawest measure of a nation’s wealth); healthy years of life expectancy; social support; trust (as measured by perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (as measured by donations).
The glaring omission on this list is the significance of resource consumption. Yet combining the Happiness Index and Ecological Footprint data on one graph reveals interesting patterns.
Unsurprisingly, the disturbing picture that emerges from the graph is that a high Ecological Footprint is the typical cost of happiness. In this year’s ranking, Denmark was No. 1, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Most have strong social safety nets and high Ecological Footprints.
At the bottom of the list lies Burundi, where a violent political crisis broke out last year. Burundi was preceded by Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar. All of those are low-income countries—displaying a low Ecological Footprint—and many have been destabilized by war, disease or both.
On the good news front, many countries in Central America (Costa Rica especially), South America and the Caribbean stand out overall for managing both a relatively high Happiness Index and a relatively low Ecological Footprint.
A more refined analysis reveals that only one country within the top 50 percentile of happiness (Nicaragua) has an Ecological Footprint of less than 1.7 global hectares – the amount of biocapacity currently available per person on the planet. The silver-lining, however, is that for any level of happiness score, there is a large spread in Ecological Footprint among countries. This is particularly true at the high happiness end of the spectrum. The good news here is that some countries are already demonstrating that it is possible to sustain a high level of happiness on a relatively small Ecological Footprint per capita.
Why does happiness matter? Because it helps us live longer, healthier and more productive lives. And being happy is a great goal in itself. Since the king of Bhutan pioneered the Gross Happiness Product in 1972, happiness has emerged as an important development goal on the world stage. In July 2011, the United Nations even passed Resolution 65/309, placing “happiness” on the global development agenda.
Going forward, the single most important question for local and national communities to explore is this: How can we thrive and be happy while living off a sustainable Ecological Footprint? To clarify, this would require for the world average Footprint to drop below 1.7 global hectares if we want to provision for wild species and for a growing human population, translating into a drastic reduction for most countries ranked high on the Happiness Index.
Some initiatives are already pointing the way, such as Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland. But the transformation will need to occur at a systemic level and on a massive scale for the change to be meaningful — infrastructures, industries, lifestyles.
The challenge is simply massive. And so are the opportunities. In this respect, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, as well as policy agendas and business strategies such as the Green Economy and the Circular Economy, are significant steps in the right direction.
On a final note, Gallup’s global poll that drove the happiness ranking was essentially based on one question known as the Cantril Ladder: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
We look forward to the day when residents in many more countries feel they can climb to the top of the ladder without leaving the planet lower down.
You may also be interested in checking out:
The true sustainability of sustainable development, as revealed by the Ecological Footprint and the UN Human Development Index.
The Happy Planet Index, which uses the Ecological Footprint as a major metric of sustainable well-being.
Im Energy Lab suchen wir nach den gemeinsamen Eckpunkten und Grundprinzipien der diversen Teilnehmer für eine Energiepolitik der Schweiz nach dem Pariser Klima Abkommen.
Energy Lab: Wie werden wir die Schweiz antreiben?
Der Klimawandel stellt die zukünftige Nutzung fossiler Energie in Frage. Heute kann die Schweiz nur 56% seiner Elektrizität durch Wasserkraft produzieren, etwa 13% ihres gesamten Energieverbrauchs. Achtzig Prozent der verbrauchten Energie kommt aus dem Ausland, mit nur wenigen Prozenten davon aus erneuerbaren Quellen.
Wir laden Sie zu einer interaktiven Debatte mit Experten, Politikern, NGO Vertretern und Studenten ein, um gemeinsame Prinzipien für die zukünftige Schweizer Energielandschaft zu entdecken. Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer werden aufgefordert, ihre persönliche Sicht für die Schweiz zu erörtern.
Sind wir bereit, unsere persönlichen Träume für die Zukunft zu offenbaren? Was haben unsere Träume gemeinsam? Wo scheiden sich unsere Perspektiven? Was steht zur Debatte? Gibt es einen attraktiven Weg in die Zukunft? Sie sind gefragt, einen Beitrag zu leisten, gemeinsam mit anderen Schweizern eine Zukunftsvision für unsere Schweiz zu entwickeln.
Das Energy Lab findet am 10. Mai 2016 in der Pädagogischen Hochschule Zürich statt. Bitte senden Sie Ihre Platzanfrage bis zum 1. Mai 2016 hier: email@example.com.
Lernen Sie mehr über die Schweizer Wettbewerbsfähigkeit im Bericht an den Bund:
Hier können Sie Ihren Footprint berechnen:
Interaktive Footprint-Karten und Ranglisten:www.footprintnetwork.org/maps
Diesjähriger Tag des Schweizer Ökodefizits: www.footprintnetwork.org/ch
Interessiert am Food Lab?
Was ist Ihre Vorstellung der Schweizer Energiezukunft? Hinterlassen Sie uns einen Kommentar:
Im Food Lab suchen wir nach den gemeinsamen Eckpunkten und Grundprinzipien der diversen Teilnehmer für eine Nahrungsmittelpolitik der Schweiz nach dem Pariser Klima Abkommen.
Food Lab: Wer wird die Schweiz ernähren?
Das Ziel von Paris unter 2 Grad Celsius Klimaerwärmung zu bleiben, bedingt eine radikale Reduktion der Treibhausgasemissionen vor 2050. Was bedeutet das für die Nahrungsmittelproduktion hier und weltweit? Die heutigen Ernährungssysteme sind für 30% der globalen Treibhausgasemissionen verantwortlich. Auch wenn es uns gelingt, den Klimawandel auf 2 Grad zu beschränken, bedrängt er die Nahrungsmittelproduktion. Zudem braucht eine wachsende Weltbevölkerung mehr Nahrung. Das alles macht nachhaltige Erzeugung ein noch unabdingbareres Ziel.
Heute produziert die Schweiz nur 50% seiner Nahrungsmittel selbst (BFS 2013, bit.ly/1S73Y5f). Der Rest kommt aus dem Ausland, wie auch ein Grossteil der Futtermittel für heimische Tiere für die Fleisch- und Milchproduktion. Wie kann die Landwirtschaft, hier und im Ausland, langfristig eine höhere und zugleich nachhaltigere Nahrungsmittelversorgung sicherstellen? Welchen Beitrag kann die biologische Landwirtschaft dabei liefern? Gibt es Synergien zwischen biologischer und industrieller Landwirtschaft? Könnten Ansätze aus der biologischen Landwirtschaft in konventionellen Systemen vermehrt integriert werden, um einen schonenderen Umgang mit Ressourcen zu gewährleisten? Kann die biologische Landwirtschaft durch Innovation und günstige Rahmenbedingungen zur breiten Anwendung gebracht werden? Und wie viel Produktion und Konsum braucht es überhaupt? Was würde eine faktenbasierte, menschenfreundliche Thematisierung des Themas Suffizienz bringen? Welche Lösungsoptionen stehen zur Verfügung?
Wir laden Sie zu einer interaktiven Debatte mit Vertretern unterschiedlichster Perspektiven ein, um gemeinsam eine Vision für die Ernährungssysteme der Schweiz und der Welt zu entwickeln. Was bedeutet das Pariser Klimaabkommen für die Ernährung. Wo sind wir uns einig, wo steht Klärungsbedarf? Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer aus Forschung, Politik, Privatwirtschaft und Zivilgesellschaft werden aufgefordert, ihre persönliche Sicht für die Schweiz zu erörtern, und werden dann daraus gemeinsame Elemente entwickeln.
Sind wir bereit, unsere persönlichen Erwartungen und Hoffnungen für die Zukunft zu offenbaren? Was verbindet uns? Wo scheiden sich unsere Perspektiven? Was steht zur Debatte? Gibt es einen attraktiven Weg in die Zukunft? Wollen Sie gemeinsam mit anderen die Zukunft der Schweiz und des Planeten mitgestalten?
Das Food Lab findet am 17. Mai 2016 in Bern statt. Bitte senden Sie Ihre Platzanfrage bis zum 8. Mai 2016 hier: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lernen Sie mehr über die Schweizer Wettbewerbsfähigkeit im Bericht an den Bund:
Hier können Sie Ihren Footprint berechnen:
Interaktive Footprint-Karten und Ranglisten: www.footprintnetwork.org/maps
Diesjähriger Tag des Schweizer Ökodefizits: www.footprintnetwork.org/ch
Interessiert am Energy Lab?
Was denken Sie? Wie soll sich die Schweiz in der Zukunft antreiben? Hinterlassen Sie uns einen Kommentar:
When I was growing up in Shenzhen, China, one of the must-join activities in my high school was the “Earth Hour” performance. On the last Saturday in March, companies, government, and environmental organizations run by high school students organized performances and games using only small lights (rather than bright stage lighting) in large communities to encourage residents to join outdoor activities while turning off their lights at home. The performance that I remember most was a student band and chorus performing in the dark, without any lights at all. In that darkness, we seemed to be able to hear the music more clearly and enjoy it more.
To this day, about half of the lights are turned off in government buildings and public areas—on streets and in squares—in Shenzhen to support Earth Hour. Words such as “1 Hour,” “60 Minutes,” and “3600 Seconds” are spelled out with LED lights and can be seen everywhere in the city.
As a high school student seven years ago, I perceived Earth Hour more as an outdoor party than a significant effort to protect our planet. As a young professional today, I have come to recognize that in one hour of darkness, we are doing more than just turning off lights. Empowered by knowledge of the Ecological Footprint from my studies at UC Berkeley and work at Global Footprint Network, I now consider Earth Hour as a great opportunity for everyone to review our relationship with the entire ecosystem and at the same time raise environmental consciousness.
The human population worldwide is using 1.6 times more natural resources and services—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing—than our planet can regenerate in a year, according to Global Footprint Network’s calculations. If we translate this data to Earth Hour, it means that the natural resources and services that our planet can regenerate in one hour will be used after 37 minutes.
This year, I will be nearly 7,000 miles away from my hometown in China on Earth Hour, but I still plan to participate. My plan: Climb the Berkeley Hills to overlook the San Francisco Bay Area in the dark! I also will encourage everyone I know to participate in Earth Hour, no matter where they are, to reduce energy consumption and give a one-hour break to our beautiful planet’s ecosystems.
Krina Huang graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Environmental Economics and Policy and in Political Economy. After working at Global Footprint Network as an intern earlier this year, she joined our staff as a research assistant to support our new initiatives in China.
The updated calculation has revealed that the global carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated, with a consequent 8 percent increase in the global Ecological Footprint. The carbon Footprint makes up 60 percent of the world’s Ecological Footprint.
We are happy to make the National Footprint Accounts available in a free downloadable version for research, education and non-commercial purposes (scroll down for more details). An interactive map and country rankings based on the National Footprint Accounts 2016 are available at www.footprintnetwork.org/maps. Watch a video explaining the National Footprint Accounts here. If you are interested in attending a webinar on the Footprint Accounts, please email email@example.com.
The annual maintenance of the National Footprint Accounts involves incorporating the most recent data (2012) from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Comtrade database, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and other sources.
As mentioned above, we have made a number of improvements to the accounting methodology this year. The most influential is the new calculation of Average Forest Carbon Sequestration (AFCS) value — which is the long-term capacity for one hectare of world-average forest ecosystem to sequester carbon dioxide. By including new data sources and accounting for multiple forest categories, global wildfires, and forest ecosystem emissions from soil and harvested wood products, forests were found to provide less net-sequestration of carbon than previously calculated.
The Ecological Footprints of countries are impacted by the new methodology. The higher a country’s carbon Footprint as a percentage of its overall Ecological Footprint, the bigger the increase in its Footprint compared to last year’s edition. For instance, Oman, whose carbon Footprint makes up a whopping 77 percent of its Ecological Footprint, has jumped up over 20 places in the ranking of countries that demand more than their own ecosystems can renew. (Oman is now one of the top 15 countries by ecological deficit.) On the other hand, Ethiopia, whose carbon Footprint is a mere 7 percent of its Ecological Footprint, fell 16 slots down the same ranking.
The robust carbon Footprint calculations are especially timely in light of the historic Paris Agreement signed in December 2015 by 195 nations and the European Union. The adopted goal of restricting average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels translates into a specific upper carbon budget for all future emissions of 800 gigatonnes CO2. The Paris Agreement also shifts the focus to net emissions of countries, recognizing the importance of land-use choices for carbon sequestration. In this context, Ecological Footprint accounts — which measure both emissions on the demand side and the supply of sequestration on the biocapacity side — provide a natural framework to evaluate net emissions by countries and the interaction between competing demands on a country’s land.
Beyond carbon, looking at the world through the prism of the Ecological Footprint makes for interesting insights, revealing long-term trends and impacts regarding countries’ ecological wealth, economic health and population growth. Here are a few highlights:
- PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) have been registering a steady decline of their Ecological Footprint per capita since the mid-2000s. By contrast, strong European economies like Germany and France have seen a rebound of their Ecological Footprint per capita since the 2008 financial crisis. What would it take for the PIGS countries to strengthen their economy AND reduce their Ecological Footprint?
- Asian countries with rapid economic expansion, such as India, China, South Korea and Vietnam, are displaying a strong increase of their Ecological Footprint per capita that is concomitant with their rising standards of living.
Note that Vietnam and Cambodia stand out among Asian countries for their successful efforts building up their biocapacity per person to support their growing Ecological Footprint.
- Low-income countries with surging population growth (fast-increasing demand) or violent turmoil (collapse of agricultural activity and output) — including Honduras, Niger and Somalia — are hitting the threshold of their own ecosystems’ ability to support (biocapacity) their population’s demand (Ecological Footprint.)
Curious to explore more? Download our Public Data Package!
Global Footprint Network is offering a free downloadable version of its National Footprint Accounts for research, education and non-commercial purposes, at www.footprintnetwork.org/public. This Public Data Package includes the latest results for all countries, country graphics and the number of Earths required if the world’s population lived like the average citizen of each country. The free download also offers many new ways to sort data — by region, GDP, Human Development Index and other categories — and data quality scores for the results.
About the National Footprint Accounts
Global Footprint Network’s annual update of the National Footprint Accounts tracks the balance sheet of approximately 200 nations from year to year, based on nearly 200,000 data points per country per year from over 30 sources. The accounts add together a country’s annual demand for the natural resources and ecological services our planet’s lands and seas provide — fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, timber and carbon dioxide absorption. This demand, the Ecological Footprint, then can be compared to the supply of these goods and services provided by that country’s ecosystems, called biocapacity.
In 1961, the first year for which consistent data sets are available, our planet was able to supply 37 percent more resources and services than humanity demanded. Since then, the global ecological deficit — the amount by which humanity’s demand has exceeded nature’s budget — has widened substantially. The 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts shows that the world population demands 64 percent more than what nature can regenerate in one year through overfishing, over-harvesting our forests and, primarily, emitting more carbon dioxide than our ecosystems can absorb. The effects include wildlife habitat loss and fragmentation, collapsing fisheries, and climate change.
More information about the new carbon calculation in the National Footprint Accounts can be found in the peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators article Ecological Footprint: Refining the carbon Footprint calculation.
For licensing questions about the National Footprint Accounts, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
When a nation like Japan is in ecological deficit, it meets demand by importing, liquidating its own ecological assets and/or using the global commons by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Trade is a fact of life in our globalized economy, but just as a trade deficit can be a risk, so can an ecological deficit. See how much nature Japan has (biocapacity) and how much its citizens use (Ecological Footprint) in the figure below.
Learn more about Ecological Footprint work in Japan:
If an acre of forest burns up in flames, what’s the cost? Zero, was FEMA’s reply in 2013. The Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected California’s request for a federal “major disaster” declaration and funding after the devastating Rim Fire, because it only knew how to put a price tag on man-made structures. The 400 square miles of forests that had been reduced to ashes and charred stumps—including part of Yosemite National Park—couldn’t translate into dollar amounts.
How times have changed. Two weeks ago, the state of California was named one of the 13 winners of the National Disaster Resilience Competition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation. California won more than $70 million to help fund several disaster preparedness projects in communities affected by the Rim Fire.
What happened? As extreme weather events have become more frequent due to climate change, decision-makers are realizing that conventional project assessments won’t do, and that building strong, resilient communities requires drastically innovative approaches. In a first for a federal agency, the HUD Office of Economic Resilience, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, mandated that nature be a key element in the design of development projects submitted to the $1 billion competition.
HUD encouraged all applicants to use a more complete benefit-cost analysis developed by Earth Economics, a close partner of Global Footprint Network. It is exactly the kind of approach that Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics called for in July in our State of the States Report, which found the United States demands twice the resources that its ecosystems can regenerate. It is also similar to the approach that Global Footprint Network piloted with the state of Maryland when developing our Net Present Value Plus tool.
To assert the HUD/Rockefeller competition marks a significant departure from business as usual is an understatement. In fact, HUD has opened the door to a brand new approach where sustainability and resiliency are the guiding principles in deciding which disaster preparedness projects are worth funding.
“We are delighted a federal agency is demonstrating such a strong commitment to incorporating the value of nature into infrastructure and resilience projects,” said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. “This is a profound shift that is bound to transform industry standards.”
Eligible applicants to the competition were required to incorporate nature into the economic impact analysis of their disaster resilience projects. All of them received training by Earth Economics on how to assess their costs and benefits more comprehensively, including the value of natural assets. The applicants then were allowed to seek Earth Economics’ assistance with their applications. Indeed, all of the applicants who sought Earth Economics’ assistance—including the state of California—won HUD money, totaling $680 million altogether.
In each case, Earth Economics coached the jurisdiction to understand how natural systems work within its specific region, and to make nature part of the solution recovering from natural disasters.
For the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Storm Resiliency Program, for instance, Earth Economics found New York City’s urban parks and green space affected by Hurricane Sandy provide $3.9 million in ecosystem services ranging from aesthetic and recreational value to water purification and storage value. NYCHA was awarded $176 million.
Decision-makers both inside and outside the United States ought to pay close attention to how this competition was conducted and to the innovative economic analysis that was applied. By using comprehensive methods for measuring the multiple benefits of post-disaster projects, government decision makers can have a far more beneficial, resilient and sustainable impact. This is the only way to avoid repetitive damage and billions in future costs, while building healthy lands and vibrant economies.
For more background on our Net Present Value Plus assessment tool, visit www.footprintentwork.org/npvplus.
Learn more about Earth Economics at www.eartheconomics.org.
Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture flickr 20120817-FS-UNK-0034
Happy New Year from Global Footprint Network!
2015 has been a very important year for humanity and the health of our planet.
Building on the momentum of the historic Paris climate agreement, the stage is set to accelerate major shifts to a low-carbon and resource-secure future. While the goals are clear, the gap is still large, especially for the most vulnerable communities.
We look forward to even more progress next year, tracking our natural capital as carefully as we do our finances, and guiding decision-makers to take action in accordance with a resource-constrained planet.
With your generous support, we made substantial strides advancing global sustainability in 2015. Check out the slideshow below for highlights from the year:
Join us in helping all of humanity thrive within the means of our fabulous planet:
• Calculate: Measure your own Ecological Footprint with our online calculator, which we plan to update with a mobile version in 2016.
• Get social: Get news, photos and videos from Global Footprint Network’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn communities. Invite your friends and family members to learn more about natural resource constraints, one of the most urgent issues of our time.
• Make a difference: Our interns, staff and board members are making a difference in such diverse areas as the Arctic, Iran, Switzerland and China. You can amplify our impact by donating to Global Footprint Network.
Thank you again for everything you do to preserve the only planet we have.