Im­bal­ance of foot­prints

Re­source-rich coun­tries re­main poor, and they spend most of their in­come on food. De­vel­oped coun­tries conit­nue to in­crease their ap­petite

Down to Earth - - SPECIAL REPORT -

Opat­terns are UR CON­SUMP­TION mock­ing at Earth’s pre­cious nat­u­ral re­sources. Con­sider this: hu­man­ity’s foot­print al­ready ex­ceeds the planet’s re­gen­er­a­tive ca­pac­ity by 50 per cent. About 85 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing in coun­tries run­ning on a bio­ca­pac­ity deficit. “Grow­ing per capita con­sump­tion cou­pled with de­clin­ing per capita bio­ca­pac­ity amounts to a grow­ing gap be­tween eco­log­i­cal sup­ply and de­mand. This over­shoot be­comes ap­par­ent in the form of cli­mate change, bio­di­ver­sity loss, de­for­esta­tion, soil ero­sion, food scarcity and other prob­lems,” says the Liv­ing Planet Re­port 2014. This year’s World En­vi­ron­ment Day fo­cuses on ‘ Seven Bil­lion Dream. One Planet. Con­sume With Care’. If cur­rent pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion pat­terns re­main the same, and world pop­u­la­tion touches 9.6 bil­lion by 2050 as ex­pected, we will need three plan­ets to sus­tain our way of life (see ‘Eaten hol­low’, p25).

Hu­man­ity’s eco­log­i­cal foot­print has more than dou­bled since 1961.This growth is largely at­trib­uted to the car­bon foot­print, which has in­creased to com­prise 53 per cent of our foot­print in 2010 from 36 per cent in 1961. Car­bon emis­sions (in par­tic­u­lar) and food de­mand are the ma­jor driv­ers of the es­ca­lat­ing foot­print, says the re­port. On a per capita ba­sis, the coun­tries with the big­gest eco­log­i­cal foot­prints are usa, Sin­ga­pore, Bahrain, Swe­den, Kuwait, Qatar, uae, Den­mark, Trinidad and Tobago and Bel­gium (see ‘Foot­print by coun­try’). The eco­log­i­cal foot­print of the top five coun­tries makes up about half the global to­tal.

This global over­shoot means, for ex­am­ple, that we are cut­ting tim­ber more quickly than trees can re-grow and re­leas­ing CO2 faster than na­ture can se­quester it.For more than 40 years, hu­man­ity’s de­mand on na­ture has ex­ceeded what our planet can re­plen­ish. At the same time, ver­te­brate wildlife pop­u­la­tions have de­clined, on av­er­age, by more than half in just 40 years, as mea­sured by the Liv­ing Planet In­dex.

But con­sump­tion pat­terns are rid­dled with ironies. Re­source-rich coun­tries re­main poor, while per capita con­sump­tion among de­vel­oped coun­tries con­tin­ues to steadily grow (see ‘ Con­sump­tion of re­sources...’).

At the same time, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are spend­ing more of their in­come on food than de­vel­oped coun­tries while also suf­fer­ing high rates of malnutrition (see ‘An­nual in­come spent on food’, p25).

The 2013 Re­source Gov­er­nance In­dex of the Nat­u­ral Re­source Gov­er­nance In­sti­tute, which mea­sures the qual­ity of gov­er­nance in the oil, gas and min­ing sec­tor of 58 coun­tries, found a strik­ing gov­er­nance deficit in nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment world­wide. Only 11 coun­tries earn an over­all score of above 70.The vast ma­jor­ity of coun­tries ex­hibit se­ri­ous short­com­ings in re­source gov­er­nance. Worse, 32 coun­tries do not meet even ba­sic stan­dards of re­source gov­er­nance, per­form­ing weakly or sim­ply fail­ing.

We are cut­ting tim­ber more quickly than trees can re-grow and re­leas­ing CO2 faster than na­ture can se­quester it

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