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.
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).
I had two passions as a kid: nature and technology. After starting as an electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), I realized my path lay elsewhere.
Long before I joined Global Footprint Network as Lead Researcher, my passion for nature led me to Alaska and Russia where, as a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas, I used cutting edge technologies to survey three dozen ecosystems to evaluate how global warming is changing landscapes in the Arctic.
Growing up in Orange County, California, it quickly became apparent to me that an emphasis on material wealth was keeping many of us disconnected from fundamental aspects of our life on Earth, starting with the natural ecosystems we depend on.
I ached to have a direct impact on those issues I had come to care deeply about, in no small part through living and working with the communities I encountered near the Arctic Circle and in the desert along the Mexican border. Following my doctorate and post-doc research, I joined Global Footprint Network.
I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to play a part in raising awareness about natural resource constraints in the public and among decision-makers. So much work has been done, yet there are still so many promising paths we can explore to make the Ecological Footprint increasingly relevant to communities around the world.
I am especially excited by the great opportunity that has been steadily growing in China. The concept of the Ecological Footprint resonates well with Chinese vision for creating a modern Ecological Civilization. Guizhou, a small, mountainous, biodiversity-rich province, where urban development, transportation and agriculture are challenging, is aiming to become an Eco-Civilization poster child with the help of the Swiss government.
We’re collaborating closely with the province’s Environmental Protection Department to help leaders along that path. Our next goal is to provide standards that all of China’s provinces can use and share in order to compare results.
You can support sustainability work in China and around the world by donating here. Your contribution could help Guizhou, China’s poorest province, set a precedent and show the rest of the world that it is possible to live well within the means of nature. Your support also could make a difference for impoverished communities everywhere who are beginning to envision their own sustainable future, with our help.
Thank you so much for your continued commitment to Global Footprint Network’s work around the world.
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.”
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.
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.
Humanity’s Demand on Nature Climbs as Biodiversity Suffers Major Decline
The 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 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.
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.
“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.”
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):
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.
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.
Statement by Mathis Wackernagel, President, Global Footprint Network
The landmark U.S.-China climate change agreement announced this week is a game changer for our energy future because it represents strong recognition of the need to wind down fossil fuel use to zero within a few decades. What had been a physical necessity but a political taboo is now being acknowledged by the two countries with the largest CO2 emissions.
Other countries have been waiting on the sidelines for the United States and China to act on climate change. So President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy adoption by 2025 and 2030 respectively—just 10 and 15 years away—sends a promising signal to the world community on the path to the Paris climate summit at the end of next year.
The new goals would keep the United States on the trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide carbon emission reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050, according to the White House. China, meanwhile, has targeted total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030. Both actions will happen well within the lifetimes of many people today.
These targets represent a significant shift in political momentum and suggest that moving out of fossil fuels may finally have won mainstream acceptance.
Of course, it will take significant investment for nations to transform their economies, and those costs are only likely to increase the longer nations delay in taking action. Consequently, it’s in the self-interest of every nation to act now to shift toward low-carbon policies as a way to “future proof” its economy.
Our analysis shows that countries are unequally exposed in terms of the scale and impact of reforms required to move to low-carbon economies. The longer countries wait, the more their carbon intensive assets will lose value in a low-carbon future. This inaction may lead both to a loss of competitiveness and potentially even a higher credit default risk. We are working with the U.N. Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and leading finance institutions to develop tools for the finance industry to better measure these economic risks when evaluating sovereign bonds.
To succeed, government leaders at all levels need better tools to make economically effective long-term decisions on everything from infrastructure to energy provision to buildings. Consequently, we have worked with state leaders in the U.S. to enhance traditional net present value (NPV) tools that recognize the economic and resource context in which the investments will operate. Such assessments provide more realistic estimates of the future costs and benefits associated with particular investments and show that in many cases, the low-carbon options are already today the economically superior choice.
Indeed, the U.S.-China agreement announced Wednesday suggests we need an entirely new way to determine the value of fossil fuels and assets that could become stranded because of their overdependence on those fuels.
The details of how U.S. and China will achieve their ambitious goals remain to be seen, and the agreement may prove to be largely symbolic. But symbols can be powerful, and we believe the agreement portends a brighter outlook for action on climate change in 2015.
Global Footprint Network
phone: +1 510 839 8879
(OAKLAND, CA, USA) — OCTOBER 2, 2014 —A new study published in Science today and co-authored by Global Footprint Network’s researchers reveals that, despite some progress, more needs to be done to reach an internationally agreed set of biodiversity targets by 2020.
Ecosystems and the biodiversity that underpin them are vital for sustaining human life. Recognizing this, in 2010, 193 nations agreed on a set of 20 biodiversity-related goals, known as Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
At this mid-way point to the 2020 deadline, a team of 51 experts from over 30 institutions have assessed progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and projected whether or not they will be met. They reveal that despite increasing management efforts and financial investment in protecting biodiversity, and a remarkable expansion in protected areas on land and at sea, accumulated and increasing pressures on the natural world mean it is unlikely that most of the targets will be met by 2020 if we remain on our current trajectory.
To assess progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, experts used a broad range of data on biodiversity and human indicators such as global bottom-trawl fishing pressure, efforts to manage invasive species, financial investment, and public understanding of biodiversity. They then projected these trends to assess the state of biodiversity in 2020.
“The Aichi Biodiversity Targets represent the most important international commitment towards preserving biodiversity,” says Derek Tittensor, Lead Author and Senior Marine Biodiversity Scientist at United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Adjunct Professor at Dalhousie University. “However, our projections show that the impact of current management and policy efforts is not enough to halt biodiversity declines and meet most of the targets by 2020.”
Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint is one of the pressure indicators included in the analysis. “Over the past five decades, the biosphere’s ecosystems have been put under increasing pressure due to humanity’s growing demand for resources and ecological services,” says Alessandro Galli, a Global Footprint Network senior scientist and director of the organization’s Mediterranean-MENA Program.
“Although evidence exists that actions taken to protect biodiversity might have slowed the decline in biodiversity, the growing societal responses have not contributed to major reductions in human-induced pressures,” Galli adds. “Among various factors, this might be due to the fact that most of these responses have focused on addressing the state of biodiversity rather than the pressures upon it.”
As shown in the Science paper, increased pressures on biodiversity suggest that the situation is worsening. The consumption of natural resources is increasing. Decreasing wetland extent and declining coral cover reflect large-scale habitat loss. At current rates, Aichi Biodiversity Targets to halve the rate of natural habitat loss and sustainably harvest all fish stocks will not be achieved – but there remains sufficient time to change this outcome.
“The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are still within reach,” says Dr Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. “We have numerous examples of successful policy efforts to halt or slow biodiversity loss. This study acts as a wake-up call that these efforts should become more widespread.”
Substantial progress is being made on individual targets. Certification schemes for forests and fisheries are becoming more widespread. Policy interventions have resulted in reduced deforestation and led to better managed fisheries stocks in some regions. There is also growing public awareness of biodiversity. Financial resources are being made available to address the biodiversity crisis, but more investment is needed to fulfill all targets.
The results of this study feed into a global assessment of the status and trends of biodiversity – the fourth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-4) – which is being released on 6 October during the upcoming meeting to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea. During this meeting the necessary actions and novel solutions required to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and preserve biodiversity will be discussed.
“A mid-term analysis of progress towards international biodiversity targets,” by D.P. Tittensor et al. will be published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday 2 October. See http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6206/241. More information can be found online at the Science press package at http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci. You will need your user ID and password to access this information.
About Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network promotes the science of sustainability by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool that makes sustainability measurable. Together with its partners, the Network works to further improve and implement this science by coordinating research, developing methodological standards, and providing decision-makers with robust resource accounts to help the human economy operate within the Earth’s ecological limits. www.footprintnetwork.org
About the Aichi Biodiversity Targets
The Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2011-2020 were adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in October 2010 in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. They formed part of the revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity which provides an overarching framework on biodiversity for biodiversity-related conventions, the United Nations system, and all partners engaged in biodiversity management and policy development.
The mission of the plan is to “take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication. To ensure this, pressures on biodiversity are reduced, ecosystems are restored, biological resources are sustainably used and benefits arising out of utilization of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable manner; adequate financial resources are provided, capacities are enhanced, biodiversity issues and values mainstreamed, appropriate policies are effectively implemented, and decision-making is based on sound science and the precautionary approach.”
The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organisation. The Centre has been in operation for over 30 years, combining scientific research with practical policy advice. www.unep-wcmc.org
About the Convention on Biological Diversity
Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and entering into force in December 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. With 194 Parties up to now, the Convention has near universal participation among countries. The Convention seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through scientific assessments, the development of tools, incentives and processes for implementation, the transfer of technologies, sharing information on good practices and the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous and local communities, youth, NGOs, women and the business community. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is a supplementary agreement to the Convention. It seeks to ensure the safe use of LMOs obtained through modern biotechnology and to protect biological diversity from their potential adverse effects. To date, 167 countries plus the European Union are Parties to the Cartagena Protocol. The Secretariat of the Convention and its Cartagena Protocol is located in Montreal, Canada. For more information visit: www.cbd.int.
Did you know the Chinese province of Guizhou in southwest China bears some striking resemblance to Switzerland? I confess I didn’t, until I was invited to Guizhou last month to speak at Eco-Forum Global. Since 2009, this annual conference gathers participants from around the world to share knowledge about policies regarding green economic transformation and ecological security. This year I spoke on a finance panel led by the chief economist of Bank of China, Ma Jun, and a panel organized by the Sino-Swiss Dialogue.
Just like Switzerland, Guizhou is landlocked and boasts a mountainous landscape. It is one of two provinces in China that President Xi Jinping declared to be testing grounds for China’s new focus on “eco-civilization” and the “China dream.”
Hoping to learn more from Switzerland to build that dream, Chinese officials announced the Guizhou-Switzerland Agreement on Establishing Mountainous Economy and eco-civilization at Eco-Forum Global this year. With its rich landscape, including spectacular lakes and waterfalls, Guizhou is believed to be an ideal location to apply the innovative cleantech, eco-tourism and sustainable development strategies that have enabled Switzerland to preserve its stunning natural environment.
The Guizhou-Switzerland agreement builds on a larger bilateral free trade agreement between China and Switzerland that was signed last year and just took effect in July.
My Sino-Swiss Dialogue keynote talk at Eco-Forum Global delved into the similarities between China and Switzerland, where Global Footprint has worked with four ministries to analyze the country’s resource dependence and make Footprint and biocapacity part of the Swiss statistical information data published annually.
Like many countries, both China and Switzerland are ecological debtor countries using more biocapacity than their own ecosystems can provide. They make up the difference through trade with trading partners who are also in ecological deficit.
Switzerland’s Ecological Footprint is four times larger than what ecosystems within Switzerland can renew. Its biocapacity deficit per person hasn’t changed over the last half century, and its financial resources have allowed it to easily access resources from abroad. However, because the world as a whole is becoming more constrained, Switzerland’s biocapacity deficit will become economically more significant in the future.
China’s Ecological Footprint is two times larger than its ecosystems can renew. Its biocapacity deficit has grown substantially amid the country’s rapid development of the past decade.
China: Rapid Footprint Growth
On the bright side, however, both Switzerland and China have worked to preserve their natural resources, particularly forests. In Switzerland, forests were under severe pressure of overexploitation at the onset of industrialization in the middle of the 19th century. Soil erosion and avalanches prompted reform in forestry management and Swiss forests now cover 30 percent of the country’s territory. China’s forests were also under pressure until the Natural Forest Protection Project was launched in 1998. By the end of 2003, the Chinese government had injected about 50 billion Yuan (about 6 billion USD) into the program, putting some 95 million hectares of natural forest in conservation nationwide. The government has recently committed an additional 220 billion Yuan (36 billion USD) to the project and aims to add an additional 7,800 hectares of forest area.
China has been acutely aware of resource constraints for decades, as has Switzerland. Many Swiss still remember World War II when the country only had enough domestic food to feed its population (then half the current size) for seven months per year. This sense of resource fragility has been an important factor spurring Switzerland’s focus on energy, material and water efficiency, high-performance buildings, effective public transportation, land protection, urban containment and forest conservation.
However, the global context within which China is developing today is markedly different to that of Switzerland in the past century. Since World War II, the entire planet has gone into ecological overshoot, with humanity now using one and a half times more from nature every year than the planet can renew in the same timeframe. Today we are living in a far more resource-constrained era, making it more important than ever for all countries to track and manage their natural assets.
With China’s Ecological Footprint continuing to grow, Guizhou Province is clearly a region at a crossroads. On the cusp of rapid development, it has enormous opportunities to seize the moment and build new economic momentum. The question is whether it will set policies that enable it to thrive while at the same time avoiding the pollution and congestion that has plagued other regions in China. Gleaning valuable lessons from Switzerland is certainly one important step. Of course, we also believe Guizhou Province will need data-driven decision-making tools like the Ecological Footprint to succeed as well.