22.08.2020 |

Earth Overshoot Day: COVID-19 has reduced our ecological footprint

Humanity has already used up nature’s budget for the entire year (Photo: CC0)

August 22 marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up all the resources nature can sustainably supply and renew in a year, according to data from international sustainability organization “Global Footprint Network” and York University in Toronto. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. COVID-19 has caused our Ecological Footprint to contract, pushing the date of the day back more than three weeks compared to last year, when Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th. Over the last years, the date has been creeping up the calendar and this is the first time since 2009 that the date arrived later. However, this does not mean that there is reason to celebrate: “Sustainability requires both ecological balance and people’s well-being ensured over the long-term, therefore this year’s sudden Ecological Footprint contraction cannot be mistaken for progress,” said Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom. Although Coronavirus-induced lockdowns caused the global Ecological Footprint to contract by almost 10%, maintaining current levels of resource consumption would require the equivalent of 1.6 Earths. But the unprecedented current disruption provides decision-makers with the challenge and chance of relaunching our economies in a way that allows us to live within the means of our planet.

To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. This is achieved by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint), including demand for food, timber, fibres (cotton) and space for urban infrastructure with the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions. Global overshoot began in the early 1970s. Since then, an ecological debt has been accumulated which is equivalent to 18 Earth years. This means that it would take 18 years of our planet’s entire regeneration to reverse the damage from overuse of natural resources, assuming it was fully reversible. But a change of course is possible: “Many solutions exist that can be adopted at the community level or individually to significantly impact the kind of future we invest in, one decision at a time: how we produce the food we eat, how we move around, how we power ourselves, how many children we have, and how much land we protect for wildlife,” says Global Footprint Network. For example, reducing the carbon footprint by 50% would get us from consuming the resources of 1.6 Earths down to 1.1 Earths and move the date of Overshoot Day by 93 days. If we move the date 5 days each year, humanity would be using less than one planet before 2050.

The “Global Footprint Network” has identified five major areas which offer significant opportunities to address ecological overshoot and improve sustainability: cities, energy, food, planet and population. Our food systems are currently using 50% of the planet’s biocapacity. What we eat matters! Diets which help reduce the carbon-intensity of food and the impact of food production on biodiversity are not only healthier but also have a lower ecological impact. The organisation has calculated that a nutritionally balanced, vegetarian diet has an Ecological Footprint that is 2.5 times lower than that of one comprised mainly of animal-based proteins. The Chinese government has committed itself to reducing meat consumption by 50% by 2030. This would reduce the Ecological Footprint by 377 million global hectares and move the date of Overshoot Day back 5 days, including by reducing methane emissions. Reducing food waste in another solution. About one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption still gets lost or wasted. Cutting food waste in half would move Earth Overshoot Day 13 days. “The past does not necessarily determine our future. Our current choices do. Through wise, forward-looking decisions, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends while improving the quality of life for all people,” the network tries to motivate each of us to make an individual contribution in order to move the date. (ab)

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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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