Footprint Network Blog - 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…).


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.


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?


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.


PRI calls for systematic integration of ESG in credit ratings

Susan Burns, Co-Founder and Director of Finance for Change - 04/25/2016 10:55 AM

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.

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ENERGY LAB (Zürich, 10. Mai 2016)

03/21/2016 03:53 PM

Im Energy Lab suchten 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?
(Agenda)

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 ladeten Experten, Politikern, NGO Vertretern und Studenten zu einer interaktiven Debatte ein, um gemeinsame Prinzipien für die zukünftige Schweizer Energielandschaft zu entdecken. Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer wurden 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.

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FOOD LAB (Bern, 17. Mai 2016)

03/21/2016 03:52 PM

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?
(Agenda)

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.

Wie kann die Ernährungssicherheit in der Schweiz langfristig gewährleistet werden? (Besonders unter Berücksichtigung der Ziele des Pariser Klimaabkommens 2015)?

Wie werden wir uns 2050 ernähren können (und gleichzeitig soll die Welt bis dann auch CO2 neutral sein)? Und was müssen wir deswegen JETZT tun? Was sind die grossen Fragen und Themen?

Heute schon bekommt die Schweiz nur 50% seiner Nahrungsmittel aus der eigenen Produktion (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. Bis 2050 leben wahrscheinlich 10 Millionen Menschen in der Schweiz. Werden wir das Geld haben für die Nahrungsimporte? Kaufen wir das Essen einfach den anderen weg – oder stimulieren wir mit dem Geld die notwendige Mehrproduktion (und das ohne Fossilenergie)?

Das bedeutet auch: Wie kann die Landwirtschaft, hier oder 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?

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National Footprint Accounts 2016 are out! Carbon makes up 60% of world’s Ecological Footprint

03/08/2016 11:00 PM

Global Footprint Network launches its 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts today, featuring a refined carbon Footprint calculation. 

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 media@footprintnetwork.org

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. 

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What do Origami and Japan’s Ecological Footprint have in common?

02/21/2016 12:01 AM

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.

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Building with nature in mind: New economic decision tools for climate change and natural disasters

02/04/2016 07:49 AM

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.

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