19th August 2014
Earth Overshoot Day 2014
Today – 19th August – is the date when our ecological footprint exceeds our planet's budget for this year.
It has taken less than eight months for humanity to use up nature’s entire budget for the year and go into "ecological overshoot" – according to data from the Global Footprint Network (GFN), an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia.
Global Footprint Network monitors humanity’s demand on the planet (ecological footprint) against nature’s biocapacity, i.e. its ability to replenish the planet's resources and absorb waste, including CO2. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity's footprint in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Since the year 2000, overshoot has grown, according to GFN’s calculations. Consequently, Earth Overshoot Day has moved from 1st October in 2000 to 19th August this year.
"Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and an economic problem," says Mathis Wackernagel, president of the GFN and co-creator of the resource accounting metric. "Countries with resource deficits and low income are exceptionally vulnerable. Even high-income countries that have had the financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realise that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress."
In 1961, humanity used just three-quarters of the biocapacity Earth had available that year for generating food, fibre, timber, fish stock and absorbing greenhouse gases. Most countries had biocapacities larger than their own respective footprints. By the early 1970s, economic and demographic growth had increased humanity’s footprint beyond what the planet could renewably produce. We went into ecological overshoot.
Today, 86 percent of the world's population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. According to the GFN's calculations, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable resources necessary to support humanity’s current footprint. Future trends in population, energy, food and other resource consumption indicate this will rise to three planets by the 2050s, which could be physically unfeasible.
The costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. The "interest" we are paying on our mounting ecological debt – in the form of deforestation, freshwater scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere – also comes with mounting human and economic costs.
Governments who ignore resource limits in their decision-making put their long-term economic performance at risk. In times of persistent overshoot, countries running biocapacity deficits will find that reducing their resource dependence is aligned with their self-interest. Conversely, countries that are endowed with biocapacity reserves have an incentive to preserve these ecological assets that constitute a growing competitive advantage in a world of tightening ecological constraints.
More and more countries are taking action in a variety of ways. The Philippines is on track to adopt the GFN's Ecological Footprint at the national level – the first country in Southeast Asia to do so – via its National Land Use Act. This policy, the first of its kind in the Philippines, is designed to protect areas from haphazard development and plan for the country's use and management of its own physical resources. Legislators are seeking to integrate the Ecological Footprint metric into this national policy, putting resource limits at the centre of decision-making.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a high-income country, intends to significantly reduce its per capita Ecological Footprint – one of the world’s highest – starting with carbon emissions. Its Energy Efficiency Lighting Standard will result in only energy-efficient indoor-lighting products being made available throughout the territory before the end of this year.
Morocco wants to collaborate with the Global Footprint Network on a review of the nation’s 15-year strategy for sustainable development in agriculture – Plan Maroc Vert – through the lens of the Ecological Footprint. Specifically, Morocco is interested in comprehensively assessing how the plan contributes to the sustainability of the agriculture sector, as well as a society-wide transition towards sustainability.
Regardless of a nation’s specific circumstances, incorporating ecological risk into economic planning and development strategy is not just about foresight – it has become an urgent necessity.