This is how these accounts work: human activities compete for nature’s regeneration. Regeneration refers to the ability of ecosystems to constantly renew what is being used or damaged. Examples of human demands are food, timber, fibers for clothes, paper, sequestration for CO2 from fossil fuel burning, or space for roads and houses. Therefore, the world or a country is like a farm: it is possible to assess how much is being regenerated and compare it to how much people demand from the farm.
Biocapacity refers to photosynthetic regeneration by ecosystems. This regeneration is driven by the sun and enables life on our planet. Regeneration produces resources and absorbs waste materials. Regeneration provided by ecosystems is one of humanity’s most critical physical inputs, as it is foundation of all food chains on the planet, including all value chains of the human economy. Ecosystems’ regeneration (i.e., biocapacity) can be compared to human demand on regeneration (i.e., Ecological Footprint).
Natural Capital Day
By comparing the biocapacity of a country to its residents’ ecological footprint, we can calculate how quickly the country’s biocapacity budget is spent by the country’s population.
Based on the latest available data, the Netherlands contains about 0.78 global hectare of biocapacity per person, while the footprint is 5.7 gha per person. With demand exceeding over 7-fold the amount of biocapacity ecosystems in the Netherlands contain, this means that the country’s natural capital or biocapacity budget is exhausted in less than 1/7th of the year, i.e., after 50 days in 2022, which is February 19th. We call this day the Dutch Natural Capital Day. If the residents’ ecological footprint is bigger than the country’s biocapacity, the country demands more from nature than its own ecosystems can provide:
Since the Netherlands have less biocapacity per person than the world, the ratio for the world is smaller: If everyone in the world consumed like the Netherlands’ residents, humanity would be using the equivalent of 3.6 Earths.
Dutch Overshoot Day
Dutch Overshoot Day is the day when the annual biocapacity of our planet is consumed if everyone on Earth lived like the Dutch. For 2022, it falls on April 12th.
We determine the country overshoot days for 2022 using the latest edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts available on December 31 of the year prior. This was the 2022 edition, featuring Ecological Footprint and biocapacity data for all countries, from 1961 to 2018, the latest complete data-year in UN statistics (Typically, there is a three to four-year lag between the latest data-year and the present due to the UN’s reporting process.)
Here is how the calculation works for the Netherlands:
The Ecological Footprint for the Netherlands was 5.69 global hectares per person (in 2018)
Global biocapacity was 1.58 global hectares per person (in 2018)
Therefore, it would take (5.69 / 1.58) = 3.60 Earths if everyone lived like people in the Netherlands,
we can determine the Dutch Overshoot Day as the 365 * (1.58/5.69) = 102nd day in the year. The 102nd day of 2022 is the 12th of April, the Dutch Overshoot Day.
Biocapacity of the Netherlands
Between 1961 and 2018, the Netherlands’ total biocapacity (figure 1) has remained nearly constant. Per person, though it has decline by 38%. But in the same time period, population has increased about 50%. At 0.8 global hectares/per capita, its domestic biocapacity is approximately half of the global biocapacity available per capita, reflecting the Netherlands’ dense population. The biocapacity of the Netherlands is mainly composed of cropland and fishing areas. The Netherlands doesn’t have significant amounts of biocapacity in the form of forests or grazing land (figure 2).
Ecological footprint of the Netherlands
After the financial crisis in 2008, the Netherlands’ consumption footprint per capita has begun to decline, after almost 3 decades of steady growth. A big portion of that is due to decarbonization efforts. Nevertheless, it remains higher than many of its European peers, and higher than all other regions of the world except for North America and the countries around the Arab Gulf.
Only 14% of the Netherland’s overall consumption footprint could be satisfied by domestic biocapacity in 2018. The remainder is embodied in the net-imports of food and goods (i.e., consumption satisfied by the biocapacity of other countries), the use of ecological services from the global commons (i.e. consumption satisfied by a biocapacity that is not counted as part of any country such as international fisheries or CO2emissions from fossil fuel burning left in the global atmosphere), and through depletion of domestic ecosystems.
The carbon footprint of the Netherlands in 2018 was 185 million tons of CO2 equivalents (excluding emissions from aviation and international shipping) per year and accounts for 64% of the ecological footprint. The carbon footprint of its residents corresponds to 4.7 times the Netherlands’ biocapacity.
33% of the Netherlands’ overall consumption footprint is associated with food, followed by services (20%), housing (17%), goods (15%), and personal transportation (15%).
The footprint of Dutch food consumption is dominated by meat, which makes up 20% of the food footprint. This is followed by Fruit, Vegetables, and Cereals (11% each). The remainder of the footprint is made up of all remaining categories, which include dairy, oils, sugars & confectionary, and beverages.
Only 22% of the Netherland’s food consumption footprint is the result of domestic production, while 78% is met through imports. Of the latter, 13% is imported from Germany, 7% from Belgium, and 5% from both France and Brazil. Meat is the principal import from all sources except for France, and in the case of Brazil it makes up to 30% of the imported footprint.