Footprint Network Blog - Ecological Limits
In the wake of the stunning Brexit vote results, we ask, what does it take to the support the UK’s demand for natural resources? Consider this:
The UK’s forest land only covers 3% of UK resident’s demand for forest products and carbon emissions sequestration. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use make up 63 percent of the UK’s overall demand for nature, or its Ecological Footprint.
If the UK used all of its forests for forest products only (and nothing for carbon sequestration), they would meet only 27% of UK residents’ demand for forest products, including timber for building and paper. This means that nearly three-quarter of the UK’s demand for forest products is met by other countries.
The UK’s grazing lands meet only 42% of UK residents’ demand for grazing products – primarily meat and dairy. More than half of the demand is met by resources beyond its borders.
The UK covers 72% of its demand for crops with resources within its borders. In other words, it is relying on the resources of other countries to meet more than one quarter (28%) of its citizens demands for crops.
Overall, the UK requires 3.8 times more than what the UK’s ecosystems can renew including the sequestration of carbon from fossil fuel use. If all fossil carbon was magically sequestered, the UK would still require 1.4 UKs to meet its citizens’ remaining demand, leaving no space for wild species inhabiting the UK.
Even after the vote, the UK is far from independent. It seems that the Brits may be underestimating their reliance on the rest of the world to meet their demand for natural resources.
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.
UPDATE (May 28, 2016): The VCA Coalition was launched on May 27 in Nairobi at the signing ceremony of this Letter of Intent. All partners are committed to helping promote, further develop and secure the sustained and increase use of the VCA Approach as a contribution to sustainable land management in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.