This report, developed by WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, draws interesting parallels between what is currently being experienced within the financial crisis and what we can expect in relation to the emerging crisis in natural resources.
In the report’s foreword Director General of WWF International, James Leape argues that "just as reckless spending is causing recession, so reckless consumption is depleting the world’s natural capital to a point where we are endangering our future prosperity".
The report states that our global footprint now exceeds the planet’s capacity to regenerate by 30% and that unless changes are made this is set to increase so that by the mid-2030s the equivalent of two planets will be required to maintain our lifestyle.
It introduces the notion of the ecological credit crunch where already more than three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries that are ‘ecological debtors’, meaning that their national consumption outstrips their biocapacity and they are required to import the shortfall from other nations.
It reveals both the scale of demand for foreign biocapacity as well as the location of biodiversity assets that fuel consumption. In 1961 just 8% of the world’s ecological footprint was traded. By 2005 this had increased to more than 40%. The EU, with less than 8% of the global population, imports more than 18% of its total biocapacity.
Globalisation has seen increased interdependency not only of economic systems but of natural systems as well, the risks of which we are now dramatically seeing.
The report is based on two key indicators: the Living Planet Index illustrating the health of the planet’s ecosystems and the Ecological Footprint detailing the extent of human demand on these ecosystems.
The Living Planet Index comprises a series of indices, not unlike share price indices in that they track the number of planets required to sustain current lifestyles over time. These are then combined to create a global index and show that much has changed over the life of the index. In 1961 when the index began almost all countries were able to comfortably meet their own demands. However, by 2005 many were reliant on importing resources and no longer had the natural capital required to support them, owing largely to population growth and increased levels of individual consumption.
It is important to look at these issues geographically as they yield quite different stories. For instance, as a resource, water, is not considered to be scare on a global scale. However, its availability and distribution varies considerably both across geographies and over time, with approximately 50 countries currently experiencing moderate or severe water stress.
Beneath this there are also indices for specific categories including marine, freshwater, tropical and grassland indexes.
The report shows a series of world maps that depict exactly where this is happening. In addition, the second key measure, the Ecological Footprint, paints a telling picture of the relative ecological footprints of nations, led by the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The United Kingdom is ranked fifteenth after countries often considered to have good environmental credentials including New Zealand and Denmark. Detailed tables are also provided highlighting national footprints for each of the subsets of environmental footprints and comparisons based on population.
The report maps key aspects of our impacts on the global ecological footprint including food, construction, transport and energy highlighting their specific contributions to the main threats or pressures on ecology. These threats are:
- Habitat loss;
- Invasive species; and
- Climate change.
By doing this, it clearly maps out pathways for addressing the root causes. It identifies key areas for change in order to steer towards a more sustainable trajectory. The most pressing being climate change, with carbon identified as the single largest demand humanity has placed on the biosphere. Indeed carbon footprints have increased tenfold since the 1960s.
The report uses conceptual wedges to show how large deficits can be overcome through a combination of measures or wedges to add up to significant positive changes.
For instance, few solutions on their own make significant impacts on climate change, reinforcing that there is no silver bullet, but when used together it illustrates how real change can be achieved from the deployment of a number of measures.
The report argues that there remains time to prevent the world descending into an irreversible ecological recession. It demonstrates that the technologies and processes required to reverse the situation already exist and the challenge is to invest in and deploy them.
It identifies an ecosystem approach as a widely acknowledged and internationally accepted approach to manage biodiversity issues. The approach integrates the management of land, water and living resources in a way that promotes an equitable and sustainable use of these resources. It sets out a series of principles for decision making that can be applied on any scale but require collaboration between governments, the private sector and civil society; a common theme for sustainability issues as well as responses to the current financial crisis. A number of this edition’s sustainability case studies highlight examples of these partnerships in practice.
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