29.07.2022 |

Overshoot: Humanity has exhausted natural resources for 2022

We are living on this planet as if we had another one (Photo: CC0)

July 28 marked 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”. For the remaining 156 days of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. The date is determined each year by the network, using National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts data. 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 and since then, the date has been creeping up the calendar. The first overshoot day was on December 25, 1971. In the early 90s, it was already reached in mid-October and in 2018, the day fell in July for the first time. After a postponement to August in 2020 due to corona-related lockdowns, we are now living on borrowed time again at the end of July.

The 50-year persistence of overshoot means that the annual deficits have cumulated in an ecological debt of 19 years worth of planetary regeneration, says the Global Footprint Network. This means that it would take 19 years of our planet’s entire regeneration to reverse the damage from overuse of natural resources, assuming it was fully reversible. The result is widespread degradation of ecosystems, a huge decline in biodiversity, excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and increased competition for food and energy. These symptoms are becoming more prominent with unusual heat waves, forest fires, droughts, and floods. “Earth Overshoot Day demonstrates that the current system of production and consumption is not compatible with the intention to continue to inhabit this planet,” said Ecuador’s Minister of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, Gustavo Manrique. “To better protect our natural resources and manage our demand for them, it is necessary to take concrete joint actions aimed at a new development model based on sustainability and regeneration,” he added.

The network’s research also shows the link between resources and food security. By now more than 3 billion people or 38% of the global population live in countries which produce less food than they consume and generate less income than the world average. This means they have inadequate food capacity and a huge disadvantage in accessing food on global markets compared to countries with high relative income. For example, Nepal only produces 78% of the amount of food that it consumes. This risk is amplified by the country’s financial disadvantage: its income per person is merely 9% of the world average. Other countries with the double risk exposure include Rwanda, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Mexico, Iraq, and Iran. Countries with low income and lacking in food biocapacity are therefore particularly exposed to food insecurity. If we include all resources, not just food, the number of people exposed to this double challenge climbs to an astonishing 5.8 billion people or 72% of the world population.

However, the Global Footprint Network also points out that a reversal of the trend is possible and, above all, will also bring economic benefits for the pioneers. “Resource security is turning into an essential parameter of economic strength. There is no advantage in waiting for others to act first. Rather, it is in the interest of every city, company, or country to protect its own ability to operate in the inevitable future of more climate change and resource constraints,” said Mathis Wackernagel, founder of Global Footprint Network. He assumes that these ventures are also more likely to grow in value than assets which contribute to overshoot. Turning the trends around is possible, confirms the network. To renew everything humanity currently demands from nature would take the biocapacity of 1.75 Earths. If humanity delays Earth Overshoot Day by 6 days every year, humanity will be below one planet before 2050. To limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels we would need to move the date 10 days every year. There are many options to achieve this. Cutting food waste by half worldwide, as practiced in many community initiatives around the world, would move the date of Earth Overshoot Day by 13 days. Upgrading urban bicycle infrastructure worldwide, to a level we currently find in the Netherlands, has the potential save 9 days. “The power of possibility gives us examples of how to build the future we need,” concluded Wackernagel. (ab)

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