03 / 2007
Begun in 1998, these reports by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are designed to show the state of the natural world and the impact of human activity. The Living Planet Report 2006 confirms that we are using the planet’s resources faster than they can be renewed.
Acceleration and overexploitation (overshoot) of Earth’s resources
Humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than tripled since 1961. Our footprint now exceeds the world’s ability to regenerate by about 25 per cent. The Living Planet Index, shows a rapid and continuing loss of biodiversity – populations of vertebrate species have declined by about one third since 1970. The message of these two indices is clear and urgent: we have been exceeding the Earth’s ability to support our lifestyles for the past 20 years, and we need to stop. We must balance our consumption with the natural world’s capacity to regenerate and absorb our wastes. If we do not, we risk irreversible damage.
We are far from respecting the objective of sustainable development!
Comparing the Ecological Footprint with a recognized measure of human development, the United Nations Human Development Index, the report clearly shows that what we currently accept as “high development’’ is a long way away from the world’s stated aim of sustainable development. As countries improve the wellbeing of their people, they are bypassing the goal of sustainability and going into what we call “overshoot” – using far more resources than the planet can sustain. It is inevitable that this path will limit the abilities of poor countries to develop and of rich countries to maintain prosperity. It is time to make some vital choices. Change that improves living standards while reducing our impact on the natural world will not be easy. But we must recognize that choices we make now will shape our opportunities far into the future.
The good news is that a change of course remains possible, but we must want it!
We already have technologies that can lighten our footprint, including many that can significantly reduce climate-threatening carbon dioxide emissions. Leading companies and governments are working to stem biodiversity loss by protecting vital habitats on an unprecedented scale. But we must all do more. The message of the Living Planet Report 2006 is that we are living beyond our means, and that the choices each of us makes today will shape the possibilities for the generations which follow us.
The price of the ecological debt
Unlike financial capital, one type of which can easily be exchanged for another of matching monetary value, ecological assets are not readily interchangeable. Ecological debt is one measure of risk, namely that ecological resources and services will not be available in the future to meet humanity’s demands. The overuse of one ecological asset, such as fisheries, cannot always be offset by decreasing demand on another, such as forests. The Business-as-usual scenario evaluates the consequences of this continuous overexploitation by making the sum of all the annual deficits. By 2050, the debt would equal an amount corresponding to 34 years of the planet’s entire biological productivity – and the years of overshoot would still be far from over and the debt would continue to accumulate.
If we do not measure, we cannot effectively manage
Without financial accounting, businesses would operate in the dark, risking bankruptcy. Without resource accounting, ecological deficits and overshoot go unnoticed and are likely to persist. By the time the effects of overshoot become apparent, it may be too late to change course and avoid ecological bankruptcy. The collapse of fisheries off the east coast of Canada and the severe effects of deforestation in Haiti are two unfortunate examples.
Focus on slow things first
Within the framework of a transition towards a sustainable world, it is essential to take into account the delays for implementation. Efforts to stem this rapid escalation of overshoot and avoid ecosystem collapse must take into account the slow response times of human populations and infrastructure. The people born and the infrastructure built today will shape resource consumption for much of the rest of the century.
Report produced by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), experienced independent conservation organization, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries (www.panda.org) with the Zoological Society of London-ZSL, an international scientific, conservation, and educational organization (www.zoo.cam.ac.uk/ioz) and Global Footprint Network (GFN) which promotes a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a tool that makes sustainability measurable (www.footprintnetwork.org).
English translation: Évéline Poirier
The article is available on the blog: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development.
The Living Planet Report 2006, produced by the WWF