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China and India’s GDP will be hit hardest by global food price shock

By | Ecological Limits, Uncategorized | No Comments

Report published by UNEP and Global Footprint Network ranks countries on the economic risks they face from a hike in food prices

(London 18 May 2016) – If global food prices double then China could lose $161 billion in GDP and India could lose $49 billion, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Global Footprint Network.

The UNEP-Global Footprint Network report, entitled ERISC Phase II: How food prices link environmental constraints to sovereign credit risk, features a table that ranks countries according to how badly they will be affected if global food commodity prices double.

In the future, the world will likely suffer from higher and more volatile food prices as a result of a growing imbalance between the supply and demand of food, the report notes. Rising populations and incomes will intensify the demand for food while climate change and resource scarcity will disrupt food production.

The report, which was published in collaboration with Cambridge Econometrics and several leading financial institutions, models the impact of a global food price shock on 110 countries to assess which countries face the greatest economic risk from this growing imbalance.

In terms of the highest percentage loss to GDP, the five countries that will be worst hit if food commodity prices double are all in Africa – Benin, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana. But China will see the most amount of money wiped from its GDP of any country – $161 billion, equivalent to the total GDP of New Zealand. India will see the second highest loss to GDP – $49 billion, equivalent to the total GDP of Croatia.

Among the report’s other key findings are:

  • Overall, Egypt, Morocco and Philippines could suffer the most from a doubling of food prices in terms of the combined impact on GDP, current account balance and inflation.
  • 17 out of the 20 countries most at risk from a food price shock are in Africa.
  • Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Australia, Canada and the US would benefit the most from a sharp increase in food commodity prices.
  • Globally, negative effects of a food price shock massively outweigh positive effects in absolute terms. While China could see an absolute reduction in GDP of $161 billion, the highest absolute positive effect on GDP, seen in the United States, is only $3 billion –50 times smaller than the impact on China.
  • In 23 countries, a doubling in food prices leads to a 10 per cent (or more) rise in the consumer price index.
  • Countries with higher sovereign credit ratings tend to be less exposed to risks resulting from a food price spike.
  • Countries whose populations have the highest consumption of natural resources and services, and are therefore most responsible for the environmental constraints that make future food prices higher and more volatile, tend to face the lowest risk exposure.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Fluctuations in food prices are felt directly by consumers and reverberate throughout national economies. As environmental pressures mount, it is important to anticipate the economic impact of these stresses so that countries and investors can work on mitigating and minimizing risk. And as the global population continues to rise, food prices can be a bellwether for how environmental risk translates to economic risk and vulnerability.”

Susan Burns, co-founder of Global Footprint Network and director of its Finance Initiative, said: “Now more than ever, in this era of climate change, identifying all relevant environmental risks is crucial to investing not only in equities but also sovereign bonds.

“As this latest research shows, disruptions to our food system represent one substantial environmental risk that both investors and governments may be largely overlooking but would be well-served to integrate into their risk analysis.”

The ERISC Phase II report was published in collaboration with Cambridge Econometrics and several financial institutions: Caisse des Dépôts, First State Investments, HSBC, Kempen Capital Management, KfW, and S&P Global Ratings.

The report builds on the first Environment Risk Integration in Sovereign Credit (ERISC) report published in 2012 by UNEP FI and GFN.

The overall objective of the ERISC project is to assesses how environmental risks such as deforestation, climate change and water scarcity affect economies, given that GDP, inflation and current account balances underpin some of the criteria that determine a country’s sovereign credit rating and the cost of borrowing on international capital markets.

UNEP and GFN would like to invite interested parties, governments, banks, investors and rating agencies to work with them to further decipher the link between environmental constraints and sovereign credit risk.

Today’s ERISC report comes ahead of the release of a landmark report on food systems and natural resources written by the International Resource Panel (IRP), a consortium of 34 internationally renowned scientists, over 30 national governments and other groups hosted by UNEP.

The IRP report, which lists a series of solutions that will improve the world’s food system, will be released in Nairobi on 25 May at the United Nations Environment Assembly – the world’s de facto Parliament for the Environment.

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About Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network is an international research organization that is changing how the world manages its natural resources and responds to climate change. Since 2003 Global Footprint Network has engaged with more than 50 nations, 30 cities, and 70 global partners to deliver scientific insights that have driven high-impact policy and investment decisions. Global Footprint Network’s finance initiative helps financial institutions quantify and integrate environmental risk in their investments, credit ratings, and country risk analysis.
www.footprintnetwork.org
www.footprintfinance.org

About UNEP Finance Initiative
The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) is a unique global partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the global financial sector. UNEP FI works closely with over 200 financial institutions who are Signatories to the UNEP FI Statements, and a range of partner organizations to develop and promote linkages between sustainability and financial performance. Through peer-to-peer networks, research and training, UNEP FI carries out its mission to identify, promote, and realise the adoption of best environmental and sustainability practice at all levels of financial institution operations.
www.unepfi.org

Media Contacts:
Laetitia Mailhes
Director of Communications
Global Footprint Network
+1-510-839-8879

Shereen Zorba
Head of News and Media
UNEP
shereen.zorba@unep.org
+254-20 762 5022

Celebrating Trees on Earth Day

By | Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits | No Comments

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.

Overall, total forest biocapacity worldwide has declined by 5 percent since 1961, the earliest year reliable data is available. On a per-person basis, the decline is much greater, at 59 percent.

Brazil, Russia, the United States and Canada are the countries with the most forested land in the world today. Combined, they generate 54 percent of the renewable goods and services that all forests provide globally.

Protecting, restoring and maintaining forests is a significant responsibility of governments not just for the sake of their people, but for the world at large, as greenhouse gas emissions know no borders.

Of the top five countries with the highest forest biocapacity in the world, China has shown the most remarkable trend reversal, followed by the United States.

Planting trees is an important, wonderful mission to pursue. But at least as important is focusing on reducing the demand we put on forests. First and foremost: carbon sequestration. Because we produce more carbon than our forests can absorb, it accumulates in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Since we can never plant enough trees to mitigate climate change, the path is clear: we need to reduce our carbon emissions. Click here for more information and graphs about the status of forests around the world.

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

By | Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government, Personal Footprint | No Comments

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.

Carbon Update

As mentioned above, we have made a number of improvements to the accounting methodology this year. The most influential is the new calculation of Average Forest Carbon Sequestration (AFCS) value — which is the long-term capacity for one hectare of world-average forest ecosystem to sequester carbon dioxide. By including new data sources and accounting for multiple forest categories, global wildfires, and forest ecosystem emissions from soil and harvested wood products, forests were found to provide less net-sequestration of carbon than previously calculated.

The Ecological Footprints of countries are impacted by the new methodology. The higher a country’s carbon Footprint as a percentage of its overall Ecological Footprint, the bigger the increase in its Footprint compared to last year’s edition. For instance, Oman, whose carbon Footprint makes up a whopping 77 percent of its Ecological Footprint, has jumped up over 20 places in the ranking of countries that demand more than their own ecosystems can renew. (Oman is now one of the top 15 countries by ecological deficit.) On the other hand, Ethiopia, whose carbon Footprint is a mere 7 percent of its Ecological Footprint, fell 16 slots down the same ranking.

The robust carbon Footprint calculations are especially timely in light of the historic Paris Agreement signed in December 2015 by 195 nations and the European Union. The adopted goal of restricting average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels translates into a specific upper carbon budget for all future emissions of 800 gigatonnes CO2. The Paris Agreement also shifts the focus to net emissions of countries, recognizing the importance of land-use choices for carbon sequestration. In this context, Ecological Footprint accounts — which measure both emissions on the demand side and the supply of sequestration on the biocapacity side — provide a natural framework to evaluate net emissions by countries and the interaction between competing demands on a country’s land.

Beyond carbon, looking at the world through the prism of the Ecological Footprint makes for interesting insights, revealing long-term trends and impacts regarding countries’ ecological wealth, economic health and population growth. Here are a few highlights:

  • PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) have been registering a steady decline of their Ecological Footprint per capita since the mid-2000s. By contrast, strong European economies like Germany and France have seen a rebound of their Ecological Footprint per capita since the 2008 financial crisis. What would it take for the PIGS countries to strengthen their economy AND reduce their Ecological Footprint?

Asian countries with rapid economic expansion, such as India, China, South Korea and Vietnam, are displaying a strong increase of their Ecological Footprint per capita that is concomitant with their rising standards of living.

Note that Vietnam and Cambodia stand out among Asian countries for their successful efforts building up their biocapacity per person to support their growing Ecological Footprint.

Low-income countries with surging population growth (fast-increasing demand) or violent turmoil (collapse of agricultural activity and output) — including Honduras, Niger and Somalia — are hitting the threshold of their own ecosystems’ ability to support (biocapacity) their population’s demand (Ecological Footprint.)

Curious to explore more? Download our Public Data Package! 

Global Footprint Network is offering a free downloadable version of its National Footprint Accounts for research, education and non-commercial purposes, at www.footprintnetwork.org/public. This Public Data Package includes the latest results for all countries, country graphics and the number of Earths required if the world’s population lived like the average citizen of each country. The free download also offers many new ways to sort data — by region, GDP, Human Development Index and other categories — and data quality scores for the results.

About the National Footprint Accounts  

Global Footprint Network’s annual update of the National Footprint Accounts tracks the balance sheet of approximately 200 nations from year to year, based on nearly 200,000 data points per country per year from over 30 sources. The accounts add together a country’s annual demand for the natural resources and ecological services our planet’s lands and seas provide — fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, timber and carbon dioxide absorption. This demand, the Ecological Footprint, then can be compared to the supply of these goods and services provided by that country’s ecosystems, called biocapacity.

In 1961, the first year for which consistent data sets are available, our planet was able to supply 37 percent more resources and services than humanity demanded. Since then, the global ecological deficit — the amount by which humanity’s demand has exceeded nature’s budget — has widened substantially. The 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts shows that the world population demands 64 percent more than what nature can regenerate in one year through overfishing, over-harvesting our forests and, primarily, emitting more carbon dioxide than our ecosystems can absorb. The effects include wildlife habitat loss and fragmentation, collapsing fisheries, and climate change.

More information about the new carbon calculation in the National Footprint Accounts can be found in the peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators article Ecological Footprint: Refining the carbon Footprint calculation.

For licensing questions about the National Footprint Accounts, contact data@footprintnetwork.org.

Letter from China

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Coinciding with WWF China’s Living Planet Report-China 2015 report, Global Footprint Network launched a new website, www.zujiwangluo.org or http://www.chinafootprint.org, last month to support the growing interest in Ecological Footprinting in the world’s most populous nation.

The WWF China report shows that in less than two generations time, China’s per-person demand on nature has more than doubled, while the average population size of China’s terrestrial vertebrates declined by half from 1970 to 2010.

The report coincidentally came on the heels of China’s statistical agency quietly publishing new data indicating the nation has been consuming up to 17% more coal a year than previously reported. This has significantly altered our calculation of the global Carbon Footprint and, consequently, of Earth Overshoot Day—the day when humanity has spent Earth’s budget for the entire year. Find out by how many days the date was moved up in the calendar.

We applaud the Chinese decision to improve coal data reporting, especially in the context of the ecological civilization vision laid out by the government. “With the ecological civilization becoming national strategy, China’s economy has entered an era where the balance between ecological protection and economic development is a priority,” said LI Ganjie, Secretary General of China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) at the launch of WWF’s Living Planet Report — China 2015 report last month. “How China deals with its growing environmental challenges in its way towards industrialization and urbanization is now a most essential question,” he added.

Ecological Footprint in the News

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Ecological Footprint data received an eye-opening visual treatment in a recent article in Geographical Magazine, by Benjamin Hennig, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. Using Ecological Footprint data in the latest Happy Planet Index, Hennig resized a map of the world to reflect each nation’s Ecological Footprint per capita and global population distribution. He then added a traffic light color scheme to reflect the number of planets that would be needed if the world as a whole lived the lifestyle of each country.

New Footprint China website launches with the release of WWF’s Living Planet Report – China 2015 report

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Beijing, China –Global Footprint Network launched the beta version of a new website, www.zujiwangluo.org , on Nov. 12 to build on and support the growing interest in the Ecological Footprint among partners and practitioners in government and academia throughout China.

The website, a core element of our Footprint initiatives in China, was launched to support WWF China’s Living Planet Report-China 2015. The report, to which Global Footprint Network contributed, shows that in less than two generations time, China’s per-person demand on nature has more than doubled. This increase in demand went hand in hand with a substantial loss in the abundance of wild species: The average population size of China’s terrestrial vertebrates declined by half from 1970 to 2010.

Global Footprint Network’s new China website aims to serve as a collaboration platform for practitioners in government and academia in China who share the common goal of making Ecological Footprint accounting and related tools as rigorous as possible to fulfill China’s vision of an ecological civilization. The website’s name means “footprint network” in Mandarin.

The Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand for the goods and services its land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing and carbon dioxide absorption. The Ecological Footprint can then be compared to biocapacity, which represents the capacity of ecosystems to meet that demand.

“With its goal of creating an ecological civilization, in which humans live in harmony with nature, China has the opportunity to lead the world in global sustainability and ensure a resilient future for our entire planet,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint framework and president and co-founder of Global Footprint Network. “The Ecological Footprint can play an important role in guiding leaders in China to make strategic investments and set policies to turn their vision into a reality.”

The website builds on several Footprint initiatives in China. Global Footprint Network recently began collaborating with Guizhou Province, the nation’s most biodiverse yet poorest province. The Guizhou Footprint Initiative is co-sponsored by the Swiss government and comes in the wake of a Chinese- Swiss trade agreement.

“The Ecological Footprint will empower decision-makers in Guizhou to make informed decisions to develop our province into a model ecological civilization for the rest of China,” said Mingjie Zheng, deputy director of the Guizhou Institute of Environmental Sciences Research and Design. “We look forward to collaborating with Global Footprint Network to find sustainable development paths that preserve our province’s unique natural beauty while also improving the well-being of our citizens.”

In addition to Global Footprint Network’s work in Guizhou, practitioners in China already have measured the Ecological Footprint of Beijing and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

WWF’s Living Planet Report – China 2015, the fourth edition of the report, continues using the Ecological Footprint as a major indicator to compare the demand the country places on the natural environment against what Chinese ecosystems can renew—the nation’s biocapacity.

The report shows that China’s Ecological Footprint has grown to 2.2 times the nation’s biocapacity.

“WWF believes that better solutions do exist, and that together we can reverse the trend if we make better choices that ensure China’s development, without destroying nature,” said WWF International’s Director General, Marco Lambertini. “As the world’s largest emerging economy, China plays a vital role in global sustainability and environmental conservation. We are all connected, and collectively, we have the potential to find and adopt the solutions that will safeguard the future of our one and only planet.”

Additional findings in the WWF Living Planet – China 2015 report include:

  • China accounts for the largest share of the global Ecological Footprint, at 1/6 of the total.
  • Though China’s per capita footprint is lower than the global average, the nation is already consuming 2.2 times its biocapacity, causing more and more significant impact on the environment, including forest degradation, drought, soil erosion, water shortage, increase of carbon dioxide and biodiversity loss.
  • The Carbon Footprint remains the largest and fastest growing component of China’s Ecological Footprint, accounting for 51% of China’s Ecological Footprint in 2010.
  • Of 31 provincial-level administrative units studied, nine provinces contribute to half of the nation’s biocapacity, while five account for 35% of the nation’s total Ecological Footprint. Four more provinces are running an ecological deficit compared with two years earlier, with only two provinces, Qinghai and Tibet, holding an ecological reserve. A nation or province runs an ecological deficit when its Ecological Footprint exceeds its biocapacity, and holds a reserve when its biocapacity exceeds its Ecological Footprint.
  • Amphibians and reptiles showed the sharpest decline among vertebrate species, at 97%, while mammals suffered a decline of 50%. The population of resident birds, meanwhile, increased by 43%, thanks the growing number of protected areas and laws after 2000.

With the theme “development, species and ecological civilization,” the report was produced with the technical support of Global Footprint Network, the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) and Institute of Zoology (IOZ) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and in collaboration with the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED).

Read WWF China’s press release on the report in English or Chinese.

Read WWF’s Living Planet Report-China 2015 report in English or Chinese.

Only eight countries meet two key conditions for sustainable development as United Nations adopts Sustainable Development Goals

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OAKLAND, SEPTEMBER 23, 2015—Eight countries in the world currently meet two key minimum conditions for global sustainable development: satisfactory well-being for their residents, as measured by the U.N., and living within the planet’s resource budget, according to Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Global Footprint Network monitors this second condition by tracking humanity’s demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature’s ability to provide for this demand (biocapacity).

The findings come as 193 nations are meeting this week in New York to adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to secure well-being for all on this one planet, regardless of income level, gender or ethnicity.

Mapping the sustainable development of nations

“Caring for the Earth,” the seminal 1991 report jointly issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the U.N. Development Programme and WWF, provided the most specific definition of sustainable development: “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems.”

“Fulfilling this universal dream requires progress without any additional costs for future generations. This means it will be crucial to manage natural resources carefully so that we live within the means of nature,” said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network.

The concept of “well-being for all” has its own U.N.-developed metric: the Human Development Index. HDI is based on the life expectancy, education and income of a nation’s residents. On a scale of zero to one, the U.N. Development Programme defines 0.7 as the threshold for a high level of development (0.8 for very high development.)

The concept “within the means of nature” is measured by the Ecological Footprint. The Footprint adds up the competing demands on productive surfaces, including food, fiber, timber, carbon dioxide sequestration and space for infrastructure.

At current population levels, our planet provides only 1.7 global hectares (gha) of biologically productive surface area per person. Thus, the average Ecological Footprint per person worldwide needs to fall significantly below this threshold if we want to accommodate larger human populations and also provide space for wild species to thrive.

Each nation’s endowment and ability to trade vary enormously. However, to achieve global sustainable development, with an HDI of at least 0.7, humanity’s demand on nature has to fall below an average of 1.7 gha per person, based on current population levels.

While the HDI of most nations has been steadily increasing over the past decades, their Ecological Footprint has been growing as well. Humanity’s annual demand on nature currently exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year by 60 percent.

Algeria, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, Jamaica, Jordan and Sri Lanka are the only countries that currently meet the two minimum criteria for global sustainable development. They enjoy “high human development” (even “very high human development” in the case of Cuba) while keeping their Ecological Footprint lower than 1.7 global hectares per person, according to Global Footprint Network and United Nations data.

By contrast, both the United States and China meet the minimum HDI requirement, while missing the second criteria by exceeding the 1.7 gha per person Ecological Footprint level. In India, meanwhile, the Ecological Footprint per person is 0.9 gha, substantially lower than the 1.7 gha per person global threshold, and its HDI is only 0.58. (See sortable HDI-Footprint Chart for more than 150 countries.)

Resource risk is acute for 71 percent of the global population

However, growing population and increasing consumption continue adding pressure on ecological constraints and contributing to climate change, compounding resource risks for every country’s economy. Such risks are most evident in countries whose Ecological Footprints are larger than what their ecosystems can renew—these countries are running “ecological deficits”—and who have low incomes, and therefore can less easily afford to buy their way out of resource scarcity.

A staggering 71 percent of the world population now lives in countries with this double-challenge: ecological deficits AND lower-than-world-average income. That’s up from less than 15 percent in the early 1960s.

“Putting natural resource security squarely into the development equation will be essential to ensuring that sustainable development is achieved,” said Wackernagel. “We hope the Sustainable Development Goals will spur all of us to move forward along this path.”

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Additional Resources:

Animated HDI-Footprint Graphic: 1980-2011

Ecological Footprint-HDI Sortable Chart

Downloadable Sustainable Development Poster

Free Public Data Package (Ecological Footprint Data on 182 countries)

About Global Footprint Network:
Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to drive informed, sustainable policy decisions in a world of limited resources. Together with its partners, Global Footprint Network coordinates research, develops methodological standards, and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

Living Planet Report 2014 Release

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Every two years, Global Footprint Network, WWF and the Zoological Society of London publish the Living Planet Report, the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. The Living Planet Report uses the Ecological Footprint and additional complementary measures to explore the changing state of global biodiversity and human consumption. The report documents the extent of human pressure on the planet, how that compares across nations, and how it is impacting the natural world.

View the Living Planet Report 2014 Press Release

View the Living Planet Report 2014 Ecological Footprint Factsheet

Humanity’s Demand on Nature Climbs as Biodiversity Suffers Major Decline

Click to view full reportThe Living Planet Report 2014, released September 30, 2014, shows that humanity’s demand on the planet is more than 50 percent larger than what nature can renew, jeopardizing the well-being of humans as well as populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled since 1961, according to the Living Planet Report. At the same time, vertebrate wildlife populations have declined, on average, by more than half in just four decades, as measured by the Living Planet Index.

It would take 1.5 Earths to produce the resources necessary to support humanity’s current Ecological Footprint. This global overshoot means, for example, that we are cutting timber more quickly than trees regrow and releasing CO2 faster than nature can sequester it.

Growth in the Ecological Footprint is largely attributable to the carbon Footprint, which has increased to comprise 53 percent of our Footprint in 2010 from 36 percent in 1961. Carbon emissions (in particular) and food demand are the major drivers of the escalating Footprint. In addition, from 1961 to 2010, the global human population increased from 3.1 billion to 6.9 billion, and the per capita Ecological Footprint increased from 2.5 to 2.6 global hectares.

Living Planet Report Partners

WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Zoological Society of London
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation, and educational organization. Its mission is to achieve and promote the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats.

August 13th is Earth Overshoot Day this year

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Carbon emissions continue pushing the Ecological Footprint further above the planet’s annual budget

(OAKLAND, CA, USA) — AUGUST 13, 2015 —In less than eight months, humanity has used up nature’s budget for the entire year, with carbon sequestration making up more than half of the demand on nature, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia.

Global Footprint Network tracks humanity’s demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature’s ability to provide for this demand (biocapacity). Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 13th this year.

The costs of this ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day, in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter will significantly amplify the former, if current climate models are correct. Consequently, government decision-makers who factor these growing constraints in their policy making will stand a significantly better chance to set their nation’s long-term economic performance on a favorable track.

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s, when the world went into ecological overshoot. It remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the Ecological Footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network and the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric. “The global agreement to phase out fossil fuels that is being discussed around the world ahead of the Climate Summit in Paris would significantly help curb the Ecological Footprint’s consistent growth and eventually shrink the Footprint.”

The carbon footprint is inextricably linked to the other components of the Ecological Footprint — cropland, grazing land, forests and productive land built over with buildings and roads. All these demands compete for space. As more is being demanded for food and timber products, fewer productive areas are available to absorb carbon from fossil fuel. This means carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere rather than being fully absorbed.

A Second Chance

The climate agreement expected at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December will focus on maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This shared goal will require nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070, per the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly impacting the Ecological Footprints of nations.

Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030, in keeping with the IPCC’s suggested scenario, Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030 (assuming the rest of the Footprint would continue to expand at the current rate), according to Global Footprint Network.

This is not impossible. In fact, Denmark has cut its emissions over the last two decades at this rate: Since the 1990s, it reduced its carbon emissions by 33 percent. Had the world done the same (while not changing the rest of the Footprint), Earth Overshoot Day would be on October 3 this year.

This is not to say that Denmark has already reached a sustainable Ecological Footprint.  Humanity would require the resources of 2.85 planets if everyone lived like the Danes, which would move Earth Overshoot Day to May 8.

Business As Usual

By contrast, business as usual would mean using the resources equivalent to two planets by 2030, with Earth Overshoot Day moving up on the calendar to the end of June.

This projection assumes that biocapacity, population growth and consumption trends remain on their current trajectories. However, it is not clear whether a sustained level of overuse is possible without significantly damaging long-term biocapacity, with consequent impacts on consumption and population growth.

Tipping Point

“We are encouraged by the recent developments on the front line of renewable energy, which have been accelerating worldwide, and by the increasing awareness of the finance industry that a low-carbon economy is the way of the future,” said Wackernagel. “Going forward, we cannot stress enough the vital importance of reducing the carbon footprint, as nations are slated to commit to in Paris. It is not just good for the world, but increasingly becoming an economic necessity for each nation. We all know that the climate depends on it, but that is not the full story: Sustainability requires that everyone live well, within the means of one planet. This can only be achieved by keeping our Ecological Footprint within our planet’s resource budget.”

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Additional Resources:

More on Earth Overshoot Day: www.overshootday.org

Follow us on social media: #overshoot

To calculate your own personal Ecological Footprint and learn what you can do to reduce it, go to: footprintcalculator.org

Free Public Data Package (Ecological Footprint Data on 182 countries):
www.footprintnetwork.org/public2015
About Global Footprint Network:
Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to drive informed, sustainable policy decisions in a world of limited resources. Together with its partners, Global Footprint Network coordinates research, develops methodological standards, and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

The Growing Reach of Beijing’s Food Ecological Footprint

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Xie Gaodi from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is the lead author of a recent research paper published in the journal Sustainability. He recently talked with Global Footprint Network about the unsustainability of giant cities.

Between 2008 and 2012, the population of Beijing climbed from 23 million to more than 30 million—a whopping 30 percent in just four years. One direct impact of this rapid demographic surge, which includes permanent residents and “floating” population such as tourists, was the drastic increase in Beijing’s reliance on food produced in areas located outside of, and increasingly further out from, the city’s boundaries, stresses a new article in the journal Sustainability authored by several researchers in China. The challenge caused by Beijing’s insufficient agricultural resources was compounded by high land prices, the researchers pointed out.

Over those five years, Beijing’s dependence on non-local food supplies grew from 48 percent to 64 percent of total food consumption in the metropolitan area, according to the article, “The Outward Extension of an Ecological Footprint in City Expansion: The Case of Beijing.”

The authors introduce the notion of Ecological Footprint distance (abbreviated as Def) to reveal the average distance that natural resources required to support a population’s Ecological Footprint travel to reach that population.

Researchers stressed that food accounts for the significantly biggest part of Beijing’s consumed biocapacity in terms of weight.

Because of challenges collecting data, the researchers chose to focus on food resources (vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, fish, grain and oil) produced within China. And they exclusively used geographic data from Beijing’s giant food wholesale market Xinfadi, which makes up more than two-thirds of Beijing’s overall food market—hence deemed representative by the researchers.

That partial lens led them to conclude that Beijing’s Def grew from 567 kilometers in 2008 to 677 kilometers in 2012, with an average annual increase of about 25 kilometers. Beijing’s Ecological Footprint distance in winter and spring was much higher than in summer and fall. This was to due to the seasonal variations that increased food production capacity in the warmer months of the year in areas closer to the capital.

Lead author Xie Gaodi, from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, kindly agreed to an interview about the recent article. He answered our questions via email.

How did you start working with the Ecological Footprint?

Xie Gaodi: In 1997 I began focusing my research on natural resources and sustainable development in China. We started looking for indicators which could effectively show us the actual sustainability status of local development. Several papers written by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees et al. came to our attention, such as “Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth” (1996) and “Perceptual and structural barriers to investing in natural capital: Economics from an Ecological Footprint perspective” (1997).

These papers spurred my interest in the Ecological Footprint. I made up my mind early on that the EF is a good tool to analyze sustainability. Every other year or so, my team, together with Global Footprint Network and WWF, compile China’s Ecological Footprint Report. The Ecological Footprint is now a well-known tool not only in Chinese academia but also throughout China.

Your research paper seeks to evaluate the geographic reach that is required for Beijing to access the biocapacity it needs to feed its population. What was your ultimate goal?

XG: In the last 30 years, China has been pushing through a fast urbanization process. In just the most recent years, several mega-cities have sprouted as more and more people have been moving away from rural areas to find work. Some cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, with over 20 million residents, are getting so huge that I worry about their sustainability. Their Ecological Footprint clearly extends way beyond their own biocapacity.

My goal with this research has been to show how far a big city’s EF or biocapacity extends, starting with Beijing. The conclusion from our findings is clear: China ought to favor the development of small or medium-sized cities because they are more sustainable.

What does Def actually indicate/infer with regard to sustainability?

XG: The further Def climbs up and away from biocapacity, the less safe it is. Food safety is compromised when food travels from far away, becoming vulnerable to such factors as weather events. Long travel distances also affect the quality of food, including its nutritional value. Besides, a food ecosystem that depends on so much transportation is the source of a whole set of environmental issues — including carbon emissions.

Typically Global Footprint Network refers to “imports” as resources from other countries. Your paper defines them as coming from outside the boundaries of Beijing but from Chinese sources of production. What about true foreign imports from outside China?

XG: Beijing’s “imported” biocapacity should include both food imports from China and from abroad. The challenge we’re facing is the difficulty to get enough reliable data about foreign food imports in such a huge city as Beijing. My guess is that they make up between 10 and 20 percent of the biocapacity consumed in Beijing — but that’s just a guess at this stage.

So we just calculated the Def of “imported” biocapacity within China, but we will calculate the Def  of imported biocapacity from foreign sources as soon as we are able to.

Based on your research, what does “sustainable development in metropolitan areas” look like to you? What policies do you suggest would pave the way in that direction?

XG: In my view, “sustainable development in metropolitan areas” is attained when the population can access the necessary resources to support its Ecological Footprint and need for ecosystem services, thanks to biocapacity that originates close enough so as to spare residents undue environmental pollution and worry about their food safety.

This can be achieved through such policies as:
1. Careful land use that rationally plans population density and natural assets’ availability across that land.
2. Ensuring the closest possible proximity of available biocapacity.
3. Reducing the transportation of resources.

The governments of some big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have truly realized that their city has grown too large. They have even begun to take some measures to limit or control urban growth. But at the national level, debates are still ongoing as to whether urban planning should favor small- and medium-sized cities.