Footprint Network Blog

Building global trust for a future that works for all

11/09/2016 11:36 AM


It is an understatement to say that everybody, in Europe, the US, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and possibly in Antarctica was surprised today.

All life depends on healthy ecosystems. Depleting the natural capital that supports us hurts everybody: Republicans and Democrats, Socialists and Greens, Populists and Libertarians, Nationalists and Conservatives.

Careless environmental policies, or weakening of the already insufficient protections of nature, puts us all at risk.

The breakthrough in Paris last December aligning nearly 200 nations to fight the planet’s warming, reaffirming the climate agreement in New York last April, and finally bringing it into effect by gathering more than 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions are stunning achievements.

Yet, as I write this from Marrakech at the onset of the next UN climate conference, it becomes even more obvious what is at stake and how fragile the ecosystem is as well as the global trust in each other that we can solve our common challenge.

Working with partners around the world, Global Footprint Network is committed to growing this trust, to bring us all forward for a future that works for all.

Join us in building this brighter future. We need you more than ever.

Warmest wishes,

Mathis Wackernagel


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:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
  • Reduce the use of natural resources 20 percent below the 2005-2012 average by 2020.
  • Protect 17 percent of the country’s land area by 2020 and 10 percent of the costal area by 2021.
  • Collect communal waste at a 95 percent rate by 2030, with at least 50 percent of it being recycled from 2020 on.

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.


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…).


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.

Balding from RMIT University echoes that sentiment. The calculator, she says, “helps students understand the relevance of sustainability and global ecological overshoot to their own lives and careers, making them realize that sustainability and climate change is their problem too—and not something to leave to ‘someone else’.”

Guénola Nonet, who is a professor in Management and Public Administration at Nova Southeastern University in the United States, uses the Footprint calculator to teach graduate students about sustainability. “The Footprint calculator is fun, insightful and students love using it. We use it to look not only at the mean of the entire class’s Footprint but also students’ individual Footprints. Their comments are astonishing,” Nonet says. “I’m always happy to see the awareness it helps create and often receive comments like ‘I thought I was doing well… Now I see my true impact.’”

University students have been as enthusiastic as instructors about the calculator. Currently available in 11 languages for 16 countries, the calculator is used by both undergraduate and graduate level students for research and other school work.

Students at the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Ecuador research their personal Ecological Footprint. Heydi Fuentes, a student at ESPOL, prefers Global Footprint Network’s Footprint calculator because it includes several lifestyle choices and leads to more precise Footprint results.

Elfe Marschall, a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, wrote, “I find [the calculator] very fascinating and have told my friends and family to check it out!”

Amanda M. Onley-Willette, a student at Midlands Technical College, highlighted the comprehensiveness of the calculator, “especially at the end when the program gives you different suggestions on how you can improve your Footprint.” She added, “Maybe if we got together and collaborated among our different communities, we could come up with more ways to reduce our Footprint as a whole along with ways to improve one’s personal impact.”

Indeed, in a future update of the calculator, Global Footprint Network aims to show the effects of scaling individual action to a larger national or even global level. We also hope to create a new version of the calculator that works on mobile devices.

Please share your experience using the calculator with us at media@footprintnetwork.org or consider supporting the calculator by making a donation at www.footprintnetwork.org/donate.


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.

“Our initiative does not want to slow down growth. We aim for an economic system capable of producing goods with a long life and with as little waste as possible to give just one example,” stated Regula Rytz, parliamentarian and president of the Green party.

The initiative’s proponents have made clear they envision Switzerland becoming a sustainability pioneer and promoting a groundbreaking economic model, including a tax policy tied to the use of natural resources.

The initiative is hotly contested. The Federal Council (central government) and the Parliament have officially voiced their opposition. They argue that 2050 is too soon to achieve one-planet living without risking jeopardizing the Swiss economy in the process. Their argument can be found here.

On the other hand, if the world, and Switzerland live up to the 2°C climate goal set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the world would have exit fossil fuels before 2050. If the rest of the Ecological Footprint would not change, cutting the carbon Footprint to zero would reduce the Ecological Footprint by nearly 75% and meet the Swiss Initiative’s target. ETZ Zurich Professor Anton Gunzinger shows that this is possible, and even economically beneficial. (www.kraftwerkschweiz.ch)

Recent polls indicate that some 60% of voters support the initiative. With one month before the vote, the public debate in Switzerland is expected to be a heated one between now and then.

One of the biggest questions remains, whether such a transition is too costly (as argued by the opponents) or whether such a transition is an economic necessity for Switzerland’s long term viability (as viewed by the proponents).  Global Footprint Network will explore these questions in an event in Bern on September 19 (18:00-20:00). If you are interested in participating, contact media@footprintnetwork.org.


“SOS TREATY” rethinks the legal framework of planet’s resources

08/23/2016 11:34 PM

The European Space Agency in Paris hosted the book launch of “SOS TREATY (The Safe Operating Space Treaty) - A new approach to managing our use of the Earth System” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016) on Oct. 7. Our very own Senior Scientist Alessandro Galli was among the guests as one of the contributors. He co-wrote a chapter on the need to develop and use solid indicators, including the Ecological Footprint, to correctly assess humanity’s pressure on the Earth.

Spearheaded by the Portuguese environmentalist NGO ZERO, the SOS book project gathered a multidisciplinary group of jurists, Earth system scientists, ecologists, economists, social scientists and philosophers. Their task was to explore, each from their own vantage point, a new legal framework alongside a novel accounting system that would help humanity nurture and strengthen a favorable state of the Commons at the scale of the planet, and live in harmony with it. This much-needed conversation is only getting started.

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Remembering environmental pioneer Luc Hoffmann

07/25/2016 05:35 PM

On July 21, we lost one of the most effective and yet very quiet giants of the environmental movement, Luc Hoffmann. After a full and transformational life, he passed in one of his dearest places, the Camargue in the South of France, one of the most biodiverse deltas in Europe, which still exists in its splendors largely because of his unrelenting commitment. He was 93 years old.

Luc studied zoology in Basel, Switzerland, during World War II – fascinated by migratory birds, but trapped in Switzerland surrounded by war. Once the war ended, he was the first to follow the calling of those birds, visited their migration route, and realized that they represent the web of life that spans around the globe. His curiosity and willingness to learn directly from nature made him into one of the first and possibly most impactful global conservationists.

He did not hesitate to put his personal assets on the line and show new ways of conservation. His modesty, quiet force, and ability to get things done, his authenticity, kindness and ability to look into the distant future, all were remarkable. He was able to get people together, build communities, and generate results.

Luc spearheaded the Research Institute for the Conservation of Mediterranean Wetlands at Tour du Valat in the Camargue more than 60 years ago, was a key force in establishing and growing World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and its global network, was instrumental in establishing the Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands, helped establish parks in Europe and West Africa, and supported many environmental organizations, including Global Footprint Network.

Always open to fresh ideas, he was one of the first who got intrigued by the idea of mapping the world according to countries who run ecological deficits and those who have ecological reserves [see www.footprintnetwork.org/maps]. He surprised us by generously supporting the idea of ecological creditors and debtors out of the blue, helping us kick-start this approach to explaining country’s resource security.

While Luc was an incredibly modest giant, I cherish the moments visiting him and asking him about the many amazing projects he had been able to bring to life. The common threads were his trust in people, his bold ideas, and his unwillingness to take credit for any of it.

Largely, he has not left us. His spirit and sense of possibility is living on, and also his concrete legacies and guidance on how to give nature a voice, celebrate its beauty, and make obvious to all of us how much we depend on a healthy nature.

Combined with his deep respect for all affected people, Luc’s profound recognition of the people connection to conservation and of the dedication it takes by communities to sustain results is what made him so remarkable and effective.

I wish I could have thanked him more for what he gave to all of us and to future generations.

I am still striving every day to become as gracious and farsighted as him.

Mathis Wackernagel

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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)

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.

(Click image to enlarge)

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?

 


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.

Educators have also praised the calculator for its animated components, echoing the sentiment that being able to communicate information visually helped teach sustainability to students in a digestible way. The calculator uses Global Footprint Network’s methodology to determine how many planets it takes to sustain each user’s lifestyle. 

“Instead of giving just the pounds of carbon, the number of planets helped them understand what their number actually translated to in real life,” noted Robin Dick (pictured at right), a teacher at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California. “After they saw how much transportation of food had an effect on their planet number, [students] realized the importance of locally grown produce,” Dick added. 

With its animated simulations, the quiz is essentially an interactive computer game that is much more appealing to students than a worksheet crowded with numbers and facts, making it an effective and engaging tool for educators in the classroom. 

“I used the calculator for my AP environmental science class. I really liked it and so did my students. They loved building their avatars,” Karen Jackson, a teacher at Hobbs High School in Hobbs, New Mexico, told us via email. 

Two million people took the online Ecological Footprint quiz last year. We hope this is a sign of the emergence of a global ecological worldview and we are excited for the integration of sustainability into more education initiatives. Going forward, we are looking to update the current calculator to work on mobile phones. 


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:

  • 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.



© 2003-2007 Global Footprint Network


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