Footprint Network Blog
May and June this year were the hottest ever since record-keeping began in 1880, according to a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. 2014 could go down as the warmest year yet, exceeding the previous records set in 2003 and 2013.
There’s no question that the Earth is warming, ancient ice is melting and sea levels are rising. Friends of Global Footprint Network are well aware of many of the risks that anthropogenic climate change poses, particularly to the world’s poorest regions.
A risk that remains under-appreciated, however, is the impact that water availability will have on energy, and that constrained energy supply will have on water.
After food production, electricity generation is the second-largest consumer of water globally. Thermal power plants – those powered by coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear – consume vast amounts of water in their cooling cycles. A single nuclear reactor can consume over 15 million gallons of water per day. Power generation accounts for 41 percent of freshwater withdrawals and about three percent of freshwater consumption (3.3 billion gallons of water per day) in the United States.
Warmer temperatures have been taking a toll on these thirsty facilities. Every summer, a lack of water (or of water that is sufficiently cold) forces power plants to shut down. Inadequate and irregular rainfall has also forced hydropower facilities to shut down, such as the Shivanasamudra plant in southern India this month.
Just as producing power requires water, producing water requires power. In California, one-fifth of the state’s electrical power is used to pump, treat, transport, heat, cool and recycle water. Agriculture consumes 80 percent of the water in the state, which produces one-third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts consumed in the United States.
This year is on track to be the driest in the history of recorded rainfall in the state, and has already forced cattle ranchers to pare down their herds and almond farmers to plow under their trees. Food prices across the nation have crept up due to the drought.
California is emblematic of the predicament that the world now faces. A growing population puts water, food, and energy supplies under even more pressure even as they are increasingly strained by climate change. But the most accessible solutions often lead to destructive feedback loops. For example, California’s current plan to replace the 2.2 gigawatts of power generation from the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station, which was shut down in 2012, is likely to rely substantially on new power generation from natural gas, which will pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere and increase the probability of future droughts.
As we anticipate the announcement of Earth Overshoot Day this year, which will arrive earlier than ever, it’s worth contemplating how we can find a way out of our predicament, and find real and enduring solutions to the knot of problems in the energy-water nexus. As many have observed, it is really an energy-water-food-economy-security-and-everything nexus, because energy and water are so fundamental to life. Eliminating waste, and using the precious resources we have as efficiently as possible, is the obvious place to start – and that’s a challenge we can all help to answer.
As the final World Cup match quickly approaches, we couldn’t help but kick around some Ecological Footprint numbers describing the diverse nations competing in this year’s games.
The eight nations who made it to the quarter-finals represent vastly different lifestyles. If all people on Earth lived like residents of those countries, how many Earths would it take? If we all lived like the Argentineans, it would take us 1.6 Earths. In contrast, living like the Belgians would require us to juggle 4.3 planets – not a small feat. The Colombian lifestyle would lead us to juggle the fewest Earths – just slightly more than one.
Do Big Footprints Give Teams a Leg Up in Football?
Do big Footprints produce big World Cup wins? After all, big Footprints may mean big budgets. Big budgets can buy more expensive players. But are they really better? When comparing the number of goals scored before the round of 16 (which evens the playing field because all teams competed in three games), the number of goals does not seem to correlate with a country’s Footprint size, as revealed on our soccer field below:
The U.S. and Belgium, for instance, have the largest Footprints per person, but their teams racked up only four goals – the same as the country with the lowest Footprint, Côte d’Ivoire. And the two countries that nailed the most goals have vastly different Footprints: Colombia, with 9 goals, has a Footprint of less than 2 global hectares per person, while the Netherlands with 10 goals has a Footprint of more than 6 global hectares per person.
World Cup football is exciting – nearly as exciting as the global sustainability game. The rules are similar. In both, the players strive to play their best within a given field. For soccer, the field is roughly 1 hectare for 22 players. For sustainability we have about 1.7 global hectares for each citizen of the planet. Can we all live well within that field? Imagine the cheers if we can! The Colombians are closer to winning that game than the Belgians. And if the Germans played the U.S. team in terms of energy transition, it may look as ugly for the U.S. as it did for the Brazilians on the soccer field earlier this week.
If we had to choose our favorite of the two finalists who face off on Sunday based on how little demand they place on nature, we would have to root for Argentina over Germany. GOOOOOLLLLLL!
Curious about the Footprints of individual countries? Visit this page and select a country from the dropdown menu: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/countrytrends.
Credit to CGP Grey, CC BY 2.0
“Climate Change Is A Global Mega-Trend For Sovereign Risk.” That's not me talking. It’s the title of the latest report published by credit rating agency Standard & Poor's. While climate risk is not yet officially included in the agency’s credit rating model, it's the first time that a major rating agency has specifically recognized an environmental issue in its forecast of countries' economic health and their ability to honor their sovereign debt.
This report is a huge development as far as the financial sector is concerned. It is a clear signal that the message about the critical need for countries to incorporate environmental risk into their development strategies, economic plans and public policies is finally beginning to hit home. As such, it is great news.
S&P’s climate risk report is just the starting point of a much bigger conversation. The sovereign bond market has been a long overlooked portion of the financial system, even though it represents 41 trillion USD of total capital flows. Because a government's cost of borrowing is strongly related to its credit rating by agencies such as S&P, governments are powerfully motivated to manage issues that could harm their credit rating. Recent analysis has shown that environmental risks do impact national economic health, and by extension default risk, but are not currently incorporated into most country risk models. Incorporating environmental risks across the finance industry would undoubtedly cause nations to pay attention to ecological risk like never before, especially due to the potential for some governments to be downgraded (and others upgraded), thereby affecting their borrowing costs.
The S&P report looks at the economic impacts of climate change, such as changing rainfall patterns that could affect agricultural yields. But climate change isn’t the whole story. Our research has shown that resource constraints (limited supply of fossil fuels, metals and minerals, food and fiber) coupled with rising global demand also have a profound effect on the balance sheets of nations.
Taken together, the conclusion is clear: For countries to protect themselves from the erosion of economic performance due to climate change and growing resource scarcity they will need to redesign their economies in order to be ‘fit for the future.’ They will need to minimize their liabilities and optimize their opportunities. They will need to be resilient in the face of climate change but will also be compelled to view their natural resources as a source of wealth for their nations, rather than assets to liquidate on their way to economic growth.
Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that are in ecological deficit. In other words, their populations demand more resources and ecological services than can be supplied on a net basis by their own ecosystems. Deficit risks play out in three ways. Here goes, briefly:
1. Trade-related risks: countries that compensate for ecological deficits through imports are exposed to trade related risks such as commodity-price volatility and possible supply disruption.
2. Degradation of natural capital: soil, fisheries and forests that are overused or mismanaged can suffer from reduced yield, affecting production and possibly increasing countries’ reliance on imports.
3. Stranded assets risks: Many nations have invested in carbon-intensive infrastructure and industrial processes. Countries are unequally exposed in terms of the scale and impact of needed reforms as governments around the world respond to climate change.
Now, the good news is that governments do have options. The management of resources and fossil fuel dependence, to name but two aspects, belong in the realm of political choice.
We believe we're providing a very important lens for credit risk perspective. And so we're about to launch the second round of E-RISC (Environmental Risk Integration in Sovereign Risk Credit) research with seven partners from the financial industry: S&P, HSBC, European Investment Bank, Caisse des Dépôts in France, Colonial First State in Australia, KFW in Germany and Kempen in the Netherlands. Some 18 months after we launched the initiative, our focus is now on testing and refining the methodology to make it robust and useable in investment decisions.
Why is this important? Because getting the finance industry to incorporate environmental risks is one of the best ways to help governments pay attention. Ultimately, our goal is to see the implementation of policies at the national and regional level that address those risks.
The challenge is on.
Footprint for Finance
Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, asserts in his April 26, 2014 Wall Street Journal opinion piece that human ingenuity has broken through resource barriers over and over again.
The reality is that sometimes innovation has overcome ecological limits (such as photovoltaics, fertilizers, LED lamps and glass fiber replacing copper) and sometimes it has not (such as ecological collapse in Mayan civilization, Easter Island and Haiti). Technology can enable higher resource dependence (as it has with airplanes) or reduce overall demand (as it has with recycling factories). The question is which of the two is gaining the upper hand.
That’s why Global Footprint Network provides ecological resource accounting to document human demand against the planet’s regenerative capacity. Both demand and regeneration change annually. We do not assume fixed ecological limits, contrary to Ridley’s claim.
Our accounting builds on simple principles. Human demand competes for biologically productive surfaces. Therefore human demand can be added up and compared against the productive surfaces available.
We encourage others to test whether our numbers hold up to scrutiny. More than 10 countries and international agencies have reviewed the National Footprint Accounts. Their reports are available on our website.
Global Footprint Network is not proposing that humanity has to fail. On the contrary. We do our work because we believe that humanity can live within nature’s budget. But just as with money, overspending is easy without accounting. Bankruptcy is an option both financially and ecologically. We offer ecological resource accounting tools to make ecological bankruptcy less likely. And just like financial management, resource management does not happen on its own. It requires accurate accounting that can inform prudent choices.
As rational optimists, we believe we can overcome ecological overshoot.
Newly published Global Footprint Network data show that high-income countries’ average demands on nature dropped sharply at the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. In 2010 the per person Footprint started to grow again only in a few high-income countries as governments began spending billions of dollars to stimulate their economies.
Changes in the Ecological Footprint per person in high-, middle- and low-income countries between 1961 and 2010. China (a middle-income country) is shown separately. The green line represents world biocapacity per person. Biocapacity per person has been declining because the world population has grown more quickly than biocapacity productivity (Global Footprint Network, 2014 NFA edition).
Globally, humanity’s per person Ecological Footprint decreased 3 percent between 2008 and 2009, due mostly to a decline in demand for fossil fuel and hence a decreasing carbon Footprint. Low-income countries, typically characterized by less elasticity in their standard of living, contributed little to the decrease in humanity’s per person Footprint.
Every year, Global Footprint Network updates its National Footprint Accounts, which compare more than 220 nations’ demands for ecological resources and services (their Footprints) against the amount available within their borders (biocapacity). Each country’s performance varies year to year, but one overarching trend has persisted for decades: Global ecological overshoot continues to grow. Ecological overshoot now stands at 54 percent above the planet’s biocapacity. Humanity demands more than 1.5 times more biocapacity than what our planet can renew.
This year’s National Footprint Accounts cover five decades. They track nations’ Ecological Footprints and biocapacity from 1961 to 2010, the most recent year for which complete data sets are available. With the latest data, Global Footprint Network can now show the resource implications of the recent global financial crisis.
“Sustainability is not just an environmental or moral issue. It’s about the well-being of humanity and our planet,” says Pati Poblete, Asia Regional Director at Global Footprint Network, in our new Giving Library overview video.
The Giving Library’s online video archive educates philanthropists about nonprofit causes. There, potential donors can browse hundreds of American nonprofit videos in which representatives describe their work and impact.
Pati’s video details the Ecological Footprint accounting tool: how much nature can provide, how much we’re using, and who uses what. She explains why this comprehensive, holistic approach incorporates forests, agriculture, and fisheries: “Because the world doesn’t operate in silos. The world is an ecosystem.” As for the necessity of Ecological Footprint accounting? “The core issue is: Humanity is using more than the Earth can renewably provide.”
Hear more from Pati below about Global Footprint Network’s collaboration with its target audience — national governments — including how she convinced the Office of the President of the Philippines to work directly with us.
As of this week, we are in overshoot. Humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year.
August 20 was Earth Overshoot Day 2013, the approximate date humanity’s ecological resource consumption exceeded what Earth can renew this year. A mere 34 weeks into 2013, we demanded a level of ecological resources and services — from food and raw materials to sequestering carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions — equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2013.
For the rest of the year, we are operating in ecological overshoot. We will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. As our level of consumption, or “spending,” grows, the interest we are paying on this mounting ecological debt — shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, degraded land productivity and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and oceans — not only burdens the environment but also undermines our economies. Climate change — a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — is the most widespread impact of ecological overspending.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. Making better choices will better ensure that we can reverse trends and move toward a sustainable future; measuring how much nature we have, how much we use and how much we need will help us make those choices. This year, due in no small part to the critical support of our partners and supporters, that message resonated around the world.
Major world media reported on Earth Overshoot Day 2013. The front page of the print version of the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa featured our infographic of ecological debtor countries as its Page 1 centerpiece. France’s Le Monde and Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo ran articles explaining Overshoot Day calculations and the implications of humanity’s increasing Ecological Footprint. Mexico’s El Universal, the UK’s Daily Mail, Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger, the U.S. magazine Popular Science and the Brazilian science journal Galileu, among many others, also had their own stories, while Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported the story for Liberation and Le Figaro newspapers (both France), FOX News, the Japan Times, Manila Times, Voice Russia and other media outlets. Television and radio — such as the multilingual Euronews television network, CBS radio, Swiss radio, and broadcasters in Ireland, Uruguay, Mexico, Quebec, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere — carried either live interviews or taped stories on Earth Overshoot Day.
As media reportage provided the context, op-ed and commentary addressed strategies for living in a resource constrained world. Andrew Simms, originator of the Earth Overshoot Day concept and chief analyst at Global Witness, made the case for living within our means in The Guardian (UK). Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US, urged businesses to “begin producing more with less” in Foreign Affairs. “We have only a 15 to 20-year window in which to turn the tide,” Alessandro Galli, Global Footprint Network Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director, wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News.
This year’s print, airtime and online media and blog space devoted to Earth Overshoot Day were the best yet. And social media was ablaze. Facebook comments and reposts and Twitter #OvershootDay and #EcologicalOvershoot tweets and retweets climbed steadily. WWF’s concurrent #oshoot Vine and Thunderclap campaigns rolled across Twitter to create a collective shout about humanity already exceeding this year’s ecological resource limits.
Other partners such as INKOTA in Berlin, Germany and Swiss Clean Tech in Bern, Switzerland held events to commemorate the day. We heard from many followers as well, including a community college teacher who used Global Footprint Network’s individual Ecological Footprint calculator as a way to introduce her students to ecological resource limits on the semester’s first day of her “Humans and the Environment” course.
Thank you all for your dedication to raise awareness about this annual mark of humanity’s ecological overspending. We look forward to the day when we can celebrate our success together in reversing current trends and moving toward a world that works for everyone.
Global Footprint Network Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director Alessandro Galli will join Jeffrey Sachs of Earth Institute at Columbia University on a panel, “Practical steps towards green growth in the Mediterranean region,” at the MED Solutions Network’s first conference on Thursday, July 4, 2013, at the University of Siena.
The Mediterranean region has nearly tripled its demand for ecological resources and services over the past five decades, and increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent. Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean Initiative aims to bring leaders together to develop a regional approach to managing ecological assets consumption and availability.
Global Footprint Network’s joint proposal solution with DESERTEC University Network was one of three selected for presentation at the MED Solutions Network’s first conference, Sustainable Development Solutions for the Mediterranean Region, July 3-5, 2013. The MED Solutions Network is the first regional center of the newly formed United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) directed by Jeffrey Sachs.
DESERTEC University Network works on green security and trans-Mediterranean renewable energy cooperation. Global Footprint Network-DESERTEC’s solution, Sustainability Compass: Guide for Projects to Reduce Ecological Deficit and Improve Human Development, focuses on developing a framework to measure the sustainable development return on investment (SDROI) of any project, using DESERTEC’s project to build solar panels in North Africa as a case study. The initiative aims to apply Ecological Footprint accounting in combination with assessments of human development (such as the UNDP Human Development Index) to estimate SDROI potential. Alessandro Galli will present the Global Footprint Network-DESERTEC solution at the MED Solutions Network conference on Friday, July 5, 2013.
Through the engagement with the Med Solutions Network, we hope to participate in the regional debate on sustainable development, contribute to the framing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and engage in new collaborations in the field of sustainable development solutions with other institutions interested in Mediterranean and global sustainability issues.
Follow the MED Solutions Network conference on Twitter @ #MEDSOL13.
Despite over $150 billion being spent annually in development globally, virtually nobody is tracking whether the achieved progress can last, or whether it is becoming increasingly fragile without the necessary access to nature’s resources.
But this is changing. The United Nations Development Programme’s latest flagship publication, its Human Development Report 2013, prominently features countries’ performance as proposed by Global Footprint Network: how much human well-being do countries generate (as measured by the UNDP’s Human Development Index) at what level of resource demand (as measured by the Ecological Footprint).
The Report reads:
“To sustain progress in human development, far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. The goal is high human development and a low ecological footprint per capita. Only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.”
It is a significant step for a leading UN agency to question business-as-usual models of development and explore alternatives. In the past, the report included Ecological Footprint results in its background data table, but this year UNDP used our HDI-Footprint graph to prominently show how far away the world is from meeting the sustainable development challenge, using simple metrics.
Gastautor Mathis Wackernagel bloggt fur ETH-Klimablog
Flugzeuge ohne Treibstoffanzeige auf dem Armaturenbrett sind gefährlich. Fürs Starten geht’s. Aber sind wir mal in der Luft und fliegen ein paar Stunden, so ist es gut zu wissen, wie viel Kerosin noch im Tank ist, und wann wir landen sollten.Erstaunlicherweise aber hat das Armaturenbrett unserer Wirtschaft keine «Treibstoffanzeige».
Obwohl alle Ressourcen, die wir konsumieren, von der Natur kommen, finden wir im klassischen Instrumentarium der Politik keine Anzeige, die uns sagt, wie viel Natur uns zur Verfügung steht und wie viel wir brauchen. Einzelne Angaben kennen wir zwar – zum Beispel wie viel Elektrizität wir verbrauchen, oder wie viele Autos wir fahren. Aber die Nettobilanz? Wie sieht es, aus wenn wir alles zusammenzählen? Und ist das überhaupt möglich?