Humanity’s Ecological Footprint contracted between 2014-2016

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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, APRIL 25, 2019—The 2019 edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts tracks the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of all countries, using U.N. data, from 1961 to 2016. This is two years further than last year’s edition, since U.N. data is becoming available more rapidly.

world ecological footprint and biocapacity per personOne finding is that humanity’s carbon Footprint dropped 1.4 percent between 2014 and 2016, bringing the total Ecological Footprint—a measure of global human demand for biological resources—down 0.5 percent over the same period. Recent data pointing to significant increases in carbon emissions throughout 2017 and 2018 suggest that this trend was short-lived, however.

Because carbon emissions require land covered with forests to be absorbed, they are counted as a competing human demand on the planet in the Ecological Footprint accounts. They compete for land area with demands for food, forest products, fibers, or infrastructure needs such as roads and buildings. In fact, the carbon Footprint accounts for 60 percent of the current Ecological Footprint of humanity. Overall, humanity’s demand for goods and services from ecological systems is currently 75 percent higher than what the planet can renew today.

“Our data show that we use as much from nature as if we lived on 1.75 Earths, yet we only have one. This is not a judgement, just a measurement. In this context, bringing human activity back within the ecological budget of our one planet is not about doing the noble thing or easing our guilty conscience. It is about choosing self-interest and what works. We will move out of ecological overshoot. Why choose to get there by disaster rather than by design?” —DR. MATHIS WACKERNAGEL, Founder and President of Global Footprint Network

All the Footprint and biocapacity data up to 2016 is freely available on the Ecological Footprint Explorer open data platform atdata.footprintnetwork.org. Additionally, “nowcasting” capabilities to forecast results to 2019 and licenses for more detail on countries’ demand by consumer activities are available for a fee.

The shrinking of the total global Ecological Footprint in 2016, the latest year with a complete U.N. data set, is mostly due to a 1.4 percent drop in the carbon Footprint over the 2014-2016 period. This led to an average per-person Ecological Footprint worldwide of 2.8 global hectares (gha), compared to 1.6 gha per person of available biocapacity. (Biocapacity represents the productivity of the Earth’s ecological assets; a global hectare is a biologically productive hectare with world average productivity.)

As of 2016, eighty-six percent of the world’s population lives in a country with an ecological deficit. A country runs an ecological deficit when its residents demand more from nature than the country’s own ecosystems can regenerate. Seventy-one percent of the world’s population lives in a country with an ecological deficit and below world-average income, and therefore are unlikely to be able to buy their way out of the resource crunch.

Highlights of the new Footprint data and tools

  • Last year, the United Nations’ persistent efforts to improve access to pertinent data resulted in shortening the delay in available data from three to two years. Not only did this change give researchers access to two years worth of data (2015, 2016) since last year’s edition, but this one-year gain in data availability delay brings the accurate assessment of countries’ Ecological Footprint and biocapacity that much closer to the current time, improving researchers’ ability to describe the recent reality and to assess current trends.
  • The 2019 edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts was produced, for the very first time, under the close observation of the team at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) who is part of the Ecological Footprint Initiative. Going forward, the Ecological Footprint Initiative team in Toronto will be entrusted with producing National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts data with the support of Global Footprint Network, in the context of the partnership created in 2018 by both organizations with a view to ensuring ever more robust and transparent data in the future.

“Our faculty and students continue to appreciate and use global data on the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of countries. These remain the best metrics for calculating human demand on the environment. We look forward to continuing the important work of producing the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts and leading a global research network committed to its application by policy-makers and the public.” —DR. ALICE J. HOVORKA, Dean & Professor of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University

Some country trends worth watching

All the results shown in this section reflect the perspective of a country’s consumption. This perspective tracks what is produced within the country plus the Footprint of trade (imports minus exports).

Venezuela

Venezuela’s total Ecological Footprint dropped 20 percent between 2014 and 2016, reflecting the dramatic deterioration of the country’s economy over the same period. The largest driver is the 50 percent decrease of the national cropland Footprint, due to a 58 percent collapse in Ecological Footprint of imports of agricultural products and a whopping 34 percent decline in local agricultural output. The carbon Footprint closely follows behind with a 12.8 percent decrease caused by the severe economic recession. Overall, the Ecological Footprint and GDP trends are closely aligned in this case. Rampant inflation began in 2015. By 2016, President Maduro declared economic emergency.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s carbon Footprint dropped 11.7 percent between 2014 and 2016, driving the country’s total Ecological Footprint down 8.8 percent. The U.K.’s total carbon Footprint has decreased by 29 percent since its 2007 peak and by around 26 percent since 1990, faster than any other major high-income country. These trends continue into 2017, largely driven by a significant decline in coal use, according to Carbon Brief: “The most significant factors include a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal, as well as falling demand for energy across homes, businesses and industry.” Remarkably, the U.K. is one of 19 countries to have significantly lowered their fossil fuel emissions over the past decade without decreasing their GDP. The “decoupling” of GDP and Ecological Footprint is certainly a hot trend to watch for the in the years to come.

On a different note, lower crop yields in 2016 cause the cropland Footprint of the U.K. to decline by 13 percent. According to the U.K.’s farming statistics, wheat and barley yields dropped 12 percent and 11 percent respectively after a couple of years of peak performance but they remain in line with longer term averages. Meanwhile, blackgrass and other weeds, poor drainage and disease caused oilseed rape yields to drop 21 percent.

Europe

 

Many countries in Europe, including France and Germany, are showing a trend in decoupling of GDP and Ecological Footprint that echoes the trend in the U.K.. Europe’s carbon Footprint, which contributes to 60 percent of the region’s total Ecological Footprint, has decreased by 21 percent since 2007, including 3.7 percent between 2014 and 2016. This decline has been a major driver is drawing Europe’s Ecological Footprint down by 15 percent over the same period, lowering the ecological deficit by about 34 percent. Europe still uses 35 percent more goods and services from nature than its own natural ecosystems can renew.

Note that from 1991 on, the Europe region data set includes the breakaway countries from former Yugoslavia, the Baltic States, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia.

United States

 

The USA’s total Ecological Footprint has decreased over the past decade, largely driven by an 18 percent decrease in its carbon Footprint between 2005 and 2016. This is due to competition from natural gas and renewables, which have displaced coal-fired power as a cheaper option for electricity production. However, this trend was reversed in 2017 and 2018, according to more recent US data that the National Footprint Accounts will start taking into account in its next edition as 2017 U.N. data is made available. America’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years. Colder winters in the Northeast have spiked the use of oil and gas for heating. Hotter summers around the country have increased power usage for cooling, boosting emissions. Other factors include a boost in manufacturing and a relative expansion of the national economy, leading to higher emissions from factories, trucks and air travel. The U.S. has yet to find its path toward decoupling its carbon Footprint from economic growth.

Russia

 

The continuous 12 percent slide of Russia’s Ecological Footprint since 2011 has mainly been driven by the 18 percent decrease of its carbon Footprint. Rather than a “decoupling” phenomenon between GDP growth and lower carbon emissions, however, this decrease reflects the economic difficulties that Russia struggled with over that period. Factors include the continued downward momentum of oil prices since their 2012 peak, and the sanctions imposed by the United States, the 28-nation European Union, Norway, Canada, and Australia in retaliation for Russia’s interference in Ukraine. The weak ruble and changes in state support programs which make beef imports too expensive for most potential buyers in Russia, compounded in 2014 by Russia’s retaliatory ban on food products from those same countries, including meat, are reflected in the 38 percent drop of the grazing Footprint between 2012 and 2016.

Russia has also enjoyed a 51 percent growth of its total cropland biocapacity (+50 percent per person) since its momentous 2012 grain harvest failure due to the exceptional drought in its Eastern agricultural regions. While expanding farmland areas account for 3 percent of this increase (or 1.58 million global hectares), improved yields make up the rest. Since 2011, Russia has grown its total ecological reserve by 85 percent (86 percent per person) despite losing 1.6 percent of its forest biocapacity over the same period.

China

Unlike European countries, China’s total carbon Footprint soared in the post economic recession era. It increased by 39 percent from 2007 to 2014, reaching its peak in 2014. Since then, it has decreased by 2 percent thanks to a significantly reduced use of coal. From 2014 to 2016, expanded renewable and nuclear power generation was able to cover the slow growth in overall electricity consumption, according to Carbon Brief. This led to a slight decline in coal-fired power generation. However, 2017 and 2018 energy data point to a trend reversal. Electricity demand grew so fast in those two recent years – driven by growth in heavy manufacturing as well as contributions from household use and the service sector – that new low-carbon sources could not keep up. According to the Global Carbon Project, emissions grew by 2.3 percent from 2017 to 2018 due to more coal consumption for electricity production.

Since 2004, China, not unlike Russia, has grown its total cropland biocapacity by a whopping 19.3 percent (20 percent per person) – including 3.5 percent between 2014 and 2016 alone – increasing total biocapacity by 13 percent over the same period. Much of this upward trend is due to policies and government spending designed to improve agricultural sciences and practices in order to improve crop yield stability and performance, fending off the specter of feeding a large population from a relatively small area of available farmland. In addition, China has been expanding its total forested land by 32 percent since 1990.

Cuba

 

Cuba’s ecological deficit per person dropped 22.4 percent between 2010 and 2016, as its Ecological Footprint per person decreased by 10 percent and its biocapacity per person grew by 13 percent. The 23 percent decrease in the carbon Footprint per person is the main driver of the Ecological Footprint’s slide. Whether this trend continues hinges on the country’s commitment, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, to generate 24 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030. Cuba’s new Constitution, which was approved by referendum in February 2019, includes amendments directing Cuba to “promote the conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, which threatens the survival of the human species.”

Between 2010 and 2016, Cuba increased its biocapacity per person by 13 percent (or 15 percent total) thanks to a 9 percent expansion of its total forested areas and a 28 percent boost of its total cropland biocapacity. The latter was made possible through agricultural transformation policies and programs designed, since 2007, to increase the country’s agricultural food self-sufficiency and biofuels capacity, reduce its dependence on imports, and possibly boost exports. However, the trend is expected to register a severe slow down, if not a halt, past 2016 due to extreme weather events, including Hurricane Irma in 2017, and the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the Cuban economy.

World Sustainability Award

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Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and President of Global Footprint Network, received the 2018 World Sustainability Award. The Award honors individual researchers or research teams who have made an outstanding academic or societal contribution to sustainability. Mathis accepted the award at the 7th World Sustainability Forum in Beijing, China.

Read about the award here.

Earth Overshoot Day 2019 is July 29th, the earliest ever

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OAKLAND, CA, USA — JUNE 26, 2019 — On July 29, humanity will have used nature’s resource budget for the entire year, according to Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability organization that has pioneered the Ecological Footprint. The Ecological Footprint adds up all of people’s competing demands for biologically productive areas – food, timber, fibers, carbon sequestration, and accommodation of infrastructure. Currently, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel comprise 60% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.

Some 80 000 people have already signed current petitions to US and EU decision makers to demand that biological resource management be placed at the core of the decision-making process.

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate in that year. Over the past 20 years, it has moved up three months to July 29, the earliest ever. This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate, equivalent to 1.75 Earths. Humanity first saw ecological deficit in the early 1970s. Overshoot is possible because we are depleting our natural capital, compromising the planet’s future regenerative capacity.

Ecological overspending costs are becoming increasingly evident: deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events.

“Ultimately, human activity will be brought in balance with Earth’s ecological resources. The question is whether we choose to get there by disaster or by design – one-planet misery or one-planet prosperity,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-inventor of Ecological Footprint accounting and founder of Global Footprint Network.

#MoveTheDate toward one-planet compatibility

If we move the date of Earth Overshoot Day back 5 days annually, humanity can reach one-planet compatibility before 2050. Global Footprint Network highlights opportunities for action that are available today and assesses their impact on the date of Earth Overshoot Day. For instance, replacing 50% of meat consumption with vegetarian food would move the date of Overshoot Day 15 days (10 days for the reduction of methane emissions from livestock alone); reducing the carbon component of the global Ecological Footprint by 50% would move the date 93 days.

Elements of the 2019 campaign

  • The Ecological Footprint Calculator is now available in Hindi, English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. To date, more than 15 million people have calculated their Ecological Footprint and personal Earth Overshoot Day.
  • Global Footprint Network and its partners invite the public to explore “Steps to #MoveTheDate” supporting the global movement towards one-planet compatibility, connected to energy, food, cities, population, and planet. Opportunities for action include starting a population conversation, launching workplace programs like food waste reduction, and petitioning governments to manage natural resources responsibly.

 

Additional resources

About solutions to #MoveTheDate : www.overshootday.org/solutions

Infographics in multiple languages : https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/infographics/

About Earth Overshoot Day: www.overshootday.org

Calculate your own Footprint : www.footprintcalculator.org

Explore all countries’ Ecological Footprint and biocapacity : data.footprintnetwork.org

New book about Ecological Footprint accounting, with excerpts available for publication:https://www.newsociety.com/Books/E/Ecological-Footprint

Can China transform into an ecological civilization?

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Creating an economy that operates in harmony with nature is the centerpiece of China President Xi Jinpig’s vision of transforming the country into an ecological civilization.

Can China become such a civilization?

To find out, we engaged with the Province of Guizhou. We are launching the results of our close collaboration with the province on Wednesday, July 6, at the EcoForum Global conference with a report titled “The Guizhou Footprint Report: Metrics for an Ecological Civilization.”

Without a doubt, China is facing steep challenges: growing resource demand far beyond its own ecological resources and services; heavy dependence on fossil fuels; and growing expectations among citizens, with many people, particularly in rural areas, still needing to be lifted out of harsh economic conditions.

The Guizhou Footprint Report was created with financial support from the Swiss government. With mountainous ecosystems, rich biodiversity, and diverse people, Guizhou Province is a unique region of China that shares geographic similarities with Switzerland. So the report also includes a comparison of the two countries, China and Switzerland.

Here are some findings that highlight the challenges that Guizhou is facing:

  • In 2012, With a per capita annual income of 18,700 yuan (2,852 US dollars) and Ecological Footprint of 1.72 global hectares (gha) per capita, Guizhou has the fifth lowest per capita income among China’s provinces and the sixth lowest per capita Ecological Footprint. The Ecological Footprint averages 3.4 global hectares per person in China and 5.8 global hectares per person in Switzerland. The latest findings in this report, indicate the Ecological Footprint has grown to 1.98 gha per capita.
  • In Guizhou, 51% of the Footprint comes from private and government sector investment in lasting assets while the remaining 49% of the Footprint comes from household consumption, which includes food, housing, mobility, and goods and services. In China, 47% of the Footprint comes from private and government sector investment while the remaining 53% comes from household consumption. By contrast, in Switzerland, 29% of the Footprint comes from private investment and 71% comes from household consumption.
  • Guizhou’s score on the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI), which measures human well-being, was calculated to be 0.62, which is below the goal of 0.7 for high development and below the average in China, at 0.73.

Our work in Guizhou builds on the China Ecological Footprint Reports published by WWF China in collaboration with Global Footprint Network. Together, Global Footprint Network and WWF China are approaching other provinces in China about incorporating the Ecological Footprint into their work. Our next meeting is with the province of Sichuan.

Global Footprint Network also has a close relationship with the China Academy of Sciences (IGSNRR). There already have been dozens (if not more) Ecological Footprint papers published in international scientific journals by Chinese academics. Global Footprint Network is seeking to accelerate the Chinese academic leadership in applying and furthering Ecological Footprint accounting.

For more information about our work in China, visit www.zujiwangluo.org or www.chinafootprint.org. Download the Guizhou Footprint Report in English here or in Chinese here. A two-page summary of the report is also available in Chinese here.

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

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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

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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.

From outdoor party to environmental awareness, a student’s view of Earth Hour in China

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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. One 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” spelled out with LED lights can be seen everywhere in the city.

As a high school student seven years ago, I perceived Earth Hour more as an outdoor party than a significant effort to protect our planet. As a young professional today,

, I have come to recognize that in one hour of darkness, we are doing more than just turning off lights. Empowered by knowledge of the Ecological Footprint from my studies at UC Berkeley and work at Global Footprint Network, I now consider Earth Hour as a great opportunity for everyone to review our relationship with the entire ecosystem and at the same time raise environmental consciousness.

The human population worldwide is using 1.6 times more natural resources and services—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing—than our planet can regenerate in a year, according to Global Footprint Network’s calculations. If we translate this data to Earth Hour, it means that the natural resources and services that our planet can regenerate in one hour will be used after 37 minutes.

This year, I will be nearly 7,000 miles away from my hometown in China on Earth Hour, but I still plan to participate. My plan: Climb the Berkeley Hills to overlook the San Francisco Bay Area in the dark! I also will encourage everyone I know to participate in Earth Hour, no matter where they are, to reduce energy consumption and give a one-hour break to our beautiful planet’s ecosystems.

Krina Huang graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Environmental Economics and Policy and in Political Economy. After working at Global Footprint Network as an intern earlier this year, she joined our staff as a research assistant to support our new initiatives in China.

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

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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.