Media outlets around the world helped share the news of Earth Overshoot Day this year, and thanks to countless partners and supporters, a conversation about our planet’s ecological deficit also took off on social media.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. This year, August 19 marked the date when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the entire year.
Highlights of Earth Overshoot Day 2014 media coverage included articles in Le Monde in France, El Mundo in Spain, and the Brasil Post in Brazil. Earth Overshoot Day also made the front page of La Stampa in Italy for the second year in a row. An online article in The Guardian in the UK generated 92 comments. In Switzerland, a Q&A with Bruno Oberle, director of the Swiss Ministry of Environment, was featured on the ministry’s website.
In addition to enjoying the myriad outdoor activities and striking natural beauty of Austria’s Gesäuse National Park, visitors are now able to immerse themselves in the world’s first walkable Ecological Footprint.
In July, the national park held the grand opening of its newest attraction adjacent to its Willow Dome Nature Center. Styled in the form of a labyrinth, the Ecological Footprint (Der ökologische Fußabdruck) garden invites visitors to discover the Ecological Footprint of their nation and their own lifestyles. Citizens, tourists, and school groups playfully explore the environmental impacts of various consumption habits (such as diet, clothing, shopping and energy use) and learn about more sustainable options.
An interactive Ecological Footprint exhibit opened last week in Frankfurt’s central train station as part of an effort to educate young people about sustainability and resource trends in advance of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
The exhibition, called “Your Footprint is the future - TAKE CARE,” was organized by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), a Global Footprint Network partner.
“We went back to the tried and tested Footprint because of its clarity and positive nature,” said Rolf Mack, of GIZ. “The Ecological Footprint is the leitmotif of the exhibition.”
The central question the Ecological Footprint tries to answer is: How much productive land and sea area is required to provide the ecological resources and services consumed by a particular population? To help make the Footprint pertinent to individuals, the exhibit includes a computer terminal for individuals to calculate their own personal Footprint.
“It’s also about encouraging people to adopt other mental and behavioral changes towards a ‘sustainable lifestyle,’ GIZ said in announcing the exhibit. “As consumers, we have influence. As consumers, we manage demand. Through conscious and deliberate use of sustainably produced goods, we can contribute to improved living conditions for people and natural world, not only here in Germany, but worldwide.”
Several events and activities were scheduled during the 2-week display, including short educational films, a hands-on activity addressing food waste, and the opportunity for young people to write messages to be delivered to Rio+20 Summit. The exhibit will be open until June 14.
Global Footprint Network is thrilled to announce that Co-Founder and President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, have been named the winners of the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Award, the world’s top honor in the field of ecological economics.
The International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), made the announcement leading up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), in Rio de Janeiro, where the awards will be presented.
The biennial award is given to “outstanding individuals who have contributed original and seminal approaches that have furthered our understanding of the interfaces between the social, ecological, ethical, economic and political dimensions of our world,” said the ISEE in announcing the award.
Building on Rees’ earlier work on human carrying capacity, Wackernagel and Rees in the early 1990s developed the Ecological Footprint, the world’s premier resource accounting system, to track humanity’s demands on nature. The Ecological Footprint measures the area of productive land and water, or “biocapacity,” required to produce the resources a human population consumes and to absorb its carbon waste.
For the last 10 years, Global Footprint Network has contributed to WWF’s bi-annual flagship publication “The Living Planet Report,” which has become a key publication for Ecological Footprint results. The 2012 edition was released in May from the International Space Station, generating the largest media response of any Living Planet Report so far. The latest Global Footprint Network calculations show that humanity’s demand for bio-resources exceeds the long-term regenerative capacity of Earth by over 50 percent.
“Ever more countries continue to use more resources than they can renew within their own boundaries,” Drs. Wackernagel and Rees said. “Until countries begin tracking and managing their biocapacity deficits, they put not only themselves at risk but, more importantly, the entire planet.”
The award will be presented at the ISEE Conference 2012 in Rio de Janeiro on June 19, where Wackernagel and Rees will deliver the keynote Boulding Award lectures.
Dr. Wackernagel has promoted sustainability on six continents and lectured at more than 100 universities. Dr. Rees is an ecologist, ecological economist, Founding Director of the One Earth Initiative, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.
Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993) was President of the American Economics Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Past notable recipients include Herman Daly (American economist, considered the father of Ecological Economics) and Manfred Max-Neef, author of Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation.
We thank you, our valued partners and supporters, for helping to promote our work around the world, and making awards such as these possible as we continue to make ecological limits central to decision-making.
Released just weeks before world leaders come together in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the report shows rising competition among countries for resources and land use.
“We’ve entered the era of the global auction,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel, Ph.D., “where nations are now forced to compete fiercely for more expensive and less abundant resources. It’s in their own self-interest to preserve and restore the natural assets they have within their borders and avoid ecological deficit spending. In a resource constrained world, such spending will become an ever more challenging economic burden.”
Figure 1: Pathways into the future. How long can ecological overshoot be sustained? What are the cost and benefit of each path? Using more than Earth can renew is only possible temporarily – while there are sufficient assets to be liquidated and waste sinks to be filled up. Eventually, overshoot will be eliminated – the question is whether it is eliminated by design or by disaster.
The new figures released for humanity’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity (Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources) show that now, more than ever, countries must manage natural capital as part of their strategy to secure ecological, economic and social success. This holds also true when deploying development strategies that aim at producing lasting progress, for instance for efforts to eliminate hunger and alleviate poverty.
As population and consumption increases, the pressure on the planet continues to grow. Global Footprint Network calculations show that in the past five decades, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled. In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, humanity used the equivalent of slightly more than 1.5 planets to support its activities. In other words, nearly 40 years after Earth went into ecological overshoot, it now takes more than a year and six months for Earth to absorb the CO2 emissions and regenerate the renewable resources that people use in one year.
While humanity’s cropland and fishing Footprints have increased, carbon continues to be the largest driver behind humanity’s ecological overshoot. Carbon now accounts for more than half the global Ecological Footprint, at 54 percent. Land used for food production is another major factor in humanity’s increasing Footprint.
While carbon is a major challenge, it must not be addressed in isolation. Moving from fossil fuel due to climate concerns to alternative sources will reduce the carbon portion of the Footprint, but may also significantly increase pressure on other ecosystems. The lack of biocapacity to accommodate the carbon Footprint also indicates that there may not be sufficient biomass available to substitute the current level of fossil fuel use, should that become necessary.
Though the numbers are stark, countries can still reverse trends. Using a Global Footprint Network Scenario Calculator, the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report offers potential outcomes based on different choices related to resource consumption, demographic trends, land use and productivity.
Examining the Ecological Footprint at the per-person level shows that people living in different countries vary greatly in their demand on Earth’s ecosystems. For example, if everyone in the world lived like the average resident of Qatar, which presently has the world’s highest per capita Footprint, we would need the equivalent of 6.5 planets to regenerate our resources and absorb the CO2 emissions. If everyone lived like a resident of the United States, we would need the resources of 4 planets.
A few countries are now on the verge of turning from ecological creditors to ecological debtors, including Indonesia, Senegal and Ecuador.
Countries that maintain high levels of resource dependence are putting their own economies at risk,” Wackernagel said. “These countries will expose themselves dangerously to the global auction. But those countries that are able to work within both their financial and their ecological budget will not only serve the global interest, they will have the most resilient economies in a resource-constrained world. If our goal is to make progress last and secure well-being for all, then we can no longer afford to ignore biocapacity deficits in the new era of resource constraints.”
The top 10 countries with the largest Ecological Footprint per person are Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the United States, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Ireland. Countries on the other end of the spectrum such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh have per capita Footprints that, in many cases, are too small to provide for basic needs. These countries may well need to increase their access to resources if they are to bring large segments of the population out of poverty.
Analysis of biocapacity also reveals vast differences between countries. More than 60 percent of the world’s biocapacity is found within the borders of just 10 countries: Brazil, China, the United States, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina and Congo. Biocapacity per person, calculated by dividing national biocapacity by a country’s population, is also not equivalent around the world. In 2008, the country with the highest biocapacity per person in this report was Gabon, followed in decreasing order by Bolivia, Mongolia, Canada and Australia. With pressure on ecological resources escalating, access to biocapacity will be increasingly important to countries’ competitiveness and to their ability to provide a good quality of life for their citizens.
“For lasting competitiveness, countries need a break with the past,” said Wackernagel. “The good news is that addressing resource risks can open up economic opportunities and advance social equity. The solutions lay in better understanding the choices before us. For this, governments need the knowledge and tools to manage their ecological assets as well as their resource demand.”
How to Participate
As Global Footprint Network approaches its 10th anniversary, we remain committed to reversing these trends by working with governments and maintaining and improving our National Footprint Accounts, the gold standard for measuring key aspects of a country’s ecological wealth and vulnerabilities. You can be part of this global effort by promoting our work, becoming a partner or giving a donation.
The Global Journal, a Geneva-based publication that covers international politics and leadership, named Global Footprint Network as one of the world’s 100 Best NGOs this week. These leading 100 actors represent the changing dynamics and innovative approaches of the non-profit world, Global Journal said in its January/February 2012 issue.
“We are humbled to be in the company of the many innovative organizations named in the top 100 who are seeking to create systemic change, ” said Susan Burns, Global Footprint Network’s Senior Vice President and co-founder. “The world now finds itself at a defining moment where ecological constraints are ever more critical as we seek to secure people’s well-being.”
The Global Journal used a specific set of metrics (impact, transparency, accountability, innovation and efficiency) as a rough guideline to rank the NGOs.
“There is no science in the measuring,” Global Journal said. “How does one – after all – compare the fundamental societal impact of an organization like the Wikimedia Foundation, with the tangible outputs of a well oiled humanitarian machine?”
Global Journal said its Top 100 list was meant to inform, stimulate debate, inspire and show the incredible dedication that is displayed on a daily basis in and out of the spotlight on a daily basis.
“Recognizing the significant role of NGOs as influential agents of change on a global scale, The Global Journal has sought to move beyond outdated clichés and narrow conceptions about what an NGO is and does,” the Journal said as it announced the Top 100 list. “From humanitarian relief to the environment, public health to education, microfinance to intellectual property, NGOs are increasingly at the forefront of developments shaping the lives of millions of people around the world.”
Other ranking organizations included Wikimedia, Partners in Health, PATH, CARE International, Gram Vikas, Oxfam and TED.
The joint project between the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and Global Footprint Network to assess the financial materiality of ecological risk was launched at the UN Foundation in Washington DC on 17 October 2011. Opening remarks from Paul Clements-Hunt (Head of UNEP FI) and Susan Burns (Senior Vice President of Global Footprint Network) showed a clear commitment from both organisations to this potentially ground breaking project. Richard Burrett, of Earth Capital Partners, also gave an inspiring presentation detailing not only the importance of this project but also how investors currently perceive the financial relevance of natural resources.
It is clear that the tightening constraints on resources and their potential impacts on national economies are not included within current financial analysis. Yet such factors are thought to have growing implications for the long-term credit risk of many government bonds, especially those with long-dated maturities.
A host of financial institutions were in attendance at the launch and participated in a stimulating discussion around the evidence base to show that ecological risks are becoming material for economies and how key ecological data can be linked to the financial and economic indicators. This project will endeavour to shine a light on such questions to explore the role of natural resource accounting in strengthening risk models for government bonds.
Global Footprint Network and UNEP FI would like to thank all those who participated in the launch event and invite any other institutions who are interested to join the project.
Humanity has reached a new milestone as we hit 7 billion. Never before have there been 7 billion people on planet earth, all at the same time. As we welcome the 7th billion global inhabitant, we also acknowledge the challenges we will face due to a burgeoning population explosion, resource depletion, food and water scarcity and overcrowded cities. This is especially true at a time when humanity as a whole is already using the planets regenerative capacity 50 percent faster than it can renew.
Although humanity’s total demand is unsustainable, this consumption is very unevenly distributed among the 7 billion people. A large portion of humanity does not have enough resources to secure even their most basic subsistence needs. This suffering is intolerable. It affects the rest of humanity, too, most visibly through conflict and instability.
Therefore, Global Footprint Network is mapping how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what. In a crowded, resource constrained world this information helps decision makers understand our present resource situation and find options for avoiding unpleasant consequences.
Global Footprint Network is the standard setting body for the only Ecological Footprint standards in the world. The Ecological Footprint standards set forth quality criteria for Ecological Footprint studies of sub-national populations, organizations, and products. The goal of the Ecological Footprint Standards is to build consensus among practitioners regarding Ecological Footprint methodology, transparency, and communications. This consensus is important because it helps to establish a forum or a common platform for understanding and communicating about natural resource constraints. To that end, the Ecological Footprint Standards are used as a way of maintaining the scientific credibility and accuracy of Ecological Footprint studies, the policy relevance, and the consistency and appropriateness with which the method is applied and findings communicated.
Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Standards have been established through a committee-based process that incorporates input from our Partnership Network and Public Comment. The Global Footprint Network Standards Committee is starting the process to review and revise the Ecological Footprint Standards. Participation in the Committee and Procedures for the Committee are outlined in Global Footprint Network Committees Charter. The result of this process will be updates to the 2009 Ecological Footprint Standards to be released towards the end of 2012.
The original goal of the Ecological Footprint Standards is to increase the quality, reliability and consistency of Footprint assessments. As the Ecological Footprint is being adopted by a growing number of government agencies, organizations and communities as a measure of environmental performance, there is an even greater need for quality, consistency, and reliability. This review and revision process for the 2012 Ecological Footprint Standards is a way to maintain this goal of improving comparability.
In addition, as the Ecological Footprint methodology is applied in different circumstances by different practitioners, advances to the methodology and communications strategies are being made. Conducting a review and revision process every three years allows Global Footprint Network to stay on top of advances in Ecological Footprint science and application. By engaging with experts, our Partner Network, and public comment every three years, our Ecological Footprint Standards can allow for a dynamic process that encourages innovation and action.
Global Footprint Network is actively seeking input from our Partner Network and Public Comment
Your feedback is welcome during the entire process! Before the revised Standards are finalized in 2012, there will be two 60-day Public Review periods, one in March – May 2012 and the second in July – September 2012. These are your opportunities to provide more input as the draft develops.