02.08.2023 |

Overshoot: We have exceeded our natural resource budget for 2023

Earth’s biocapacity is limited (Photo: Pixabay)

We have already reached Earth Overshoot Day this year: August 2nd marks the date by which humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services has exceeded what Earth can regenerate in 2023. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. This is the sad message spread by the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that calculates the date each year, using National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts data. This is done 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. “The persistence of overshoot has led to land and soil degradation, fish stock depletion, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas accumulation. These symptoms are becoming more prominent every day across the planet, with unusual heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and floods, exacerbating the competition for food and energy,” the Global Footprint Network announces in a press release. “The biggest risk, apart from ecological overshoot itself, lies in complacency towards this crisis,” says Steven Tebbe, CEO of the organisation. “Entities that act now are not just safeguarding the environment but future-proofing their economy and the wellbeing of their residents,” he added.

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 28th. However, the apparent delay by five days compared to last year isn’t all good news, as genuine advancements amount to less than one day, the Network explained in a press release. The remaining four days are owed to integrating improved datasets into the new edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts that are being maintained by York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative. The datasets now track countries’ performance up to 2022, reducing reporting lag by three years. For each edition, the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity metrics are recalculated to maintain consistency with the latest data and science which means that the annual dates of Earth Overshoot Day change accordingly. Since 1971, the date has been creeping up the calendar every year, although at a slowing rate. The first overshoot day was on December 25, 1971. In the early 90s, it was in the second half of October and in 2018, the day fell on August 1st, the earliest date so far. In 2020, the date moved back to August 16th, reflecting the initial drop in resource use in the first half of the year due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. “For the last 5 years the trend has flattened. How much of this is driven by economic slow-down or deliberate decarbonization efforts is difficult to discern,” the Network writes. “Still, overshoot reduction is far too slow. To reach the UN’s IPCC target of reducing carbon emissions 43% worldwide by 2030 compared to 2010 would require moving Overshoot Day 19 days annually for the next seven years.

The Network highlights that solutions to reverse ecological overshoot and bolster biological regeneration are at our disposal. Its “Power of Possibility platform” shows how we can improve our resource security in five key areas (healthy planet, cities, energy, food, and population) and presents technologies, governmental strategies, public policies, and best practices from civic initiatives and academia. Food is an important area since half of Earth‘s biocapacity is used to feed us. “With a growing human population, and increasing demand for healthy food, the ecological pressure of food will mount, while the capacity for producing food is increasingly challenged due to greater resource stress and climate uncertainty,” the Network projects in a blog article. “But there is also great potential – a food system based on circular principles has the potential to reduce land use for food by up to 71% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29% per person.” A major problem is the resource inefficiency in food production. Animal calories are significantly more resource intensive than plant calories to produce and current agriculture is also fossil fuel intensive, the Network explains. For example, it takes 5 calories of fossil fuel in Belgium to provide one calorie of meat. If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced these calories through a vegetarian diet, we would move Overshoot Day 17 days (including 10 days from reduction of methane emissions), they calculate. Another problem is food waste: About one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption (1.3 billion tonnes each year) gets lost or wasted, with high and low-income countries dissipating roughly the same quantities of food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. If we cut food waste in half worldwide, Overshoot Day would be moved by 13 days. Changes in farming can also make a contribution. Tree intercropping is an agricultural technique where trees are grown together with other crops on the same land. It is an important method not only for increasing the yields of cropland and preserving soil quality, but also for sequestering carbon in soils. Wide implementation of tree intercropping techniques would move Overshoot Day by 2.1 days by 2050. An additional 1.2 days could be saved with improved rice production methods that reduce methane emissions by not flooding rice fields constantly. “There is immense power of possibility in the many existing solutions that are ready to be deployed at scale. With them, we can make ourselves more resilient and #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day,” the Network expresses optimism. (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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