The Majority is Left Out

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As prices rise, many countries must spend larger portions of their budgets on essential resources from abroad, often forgoing expenditures on health, education, infrastructure or other productive capacity building. People find it more difficult to make ends meet. The socio-economic impact of ecological overshoot, including climate change, disproportionately affects the most vulnerable.

Rising commodity prices have increased the import bills of many countries. For example, the FAO estimates that sub-Saharan African countries' food import bill has increased to U.S. $39.6 billion in 2011, a nearly 30 percent increase from the previous year. In 2012, the IEA estimated that the world's total oil import bill was heading toward a record U.S. $2 trillion

The increasing import bills will be a particular challenge for poor countries that are net food and fuel importers. Indeed, the total cost of food and fuel imports in 20 low-income countries is already greater than total exports. Increasing prices for essential food and fuel imports in these and other low-income countries will necessarily translate into reducing expenditure in other areas such as basic infrastructure investments.

Even as many low-income countries pay more to import more, or as they consume more of their natural capital, they are still unable to meet domestic demand. While these countries’ total Footprint is growing, the average per person Footprint is declining—evidence that the most vulnerable are getting a smaller share of essential resources.

This further demonstrates how adverse socio-economic impacts of ecological deficits are overwhelmingly borne by the world's most vulnerable populations. Another is the effects of climate change, widely acknowledged to be particularly severe for low-income countries. The World Bank estimates that the consequences of a global warming of 2° C, which is now seen as almost unavoidable, will cause a 4–5 percent permanent reduction in annual incomes in Africa and South Asia.

Figure 2. Rapid population growth since the early 1960s has been the main factor in declining per capita biocapacity and per capita Footprint in low income countries. Global Footprint Network data published in WWF/Global Footprint Network / ZLS’s Living Planet Report 2008.

Further information:

  • FAO Food Outlook 2011
  • UNCTAD Commodities Report 2012
  • World Development Report 2010
  • UNCTAD LDC Report 2010
  • Living Planet Report 2008
  • “World oil import bill heading for record $2 Trillion” Reuters