ICT and Big Data
Happy Earth Overshoot Day! Our Earliest Yet …

The Global Footprint Network (GFN) has released data designating today, August 19, as this year’s Earth Overshoot Day — meaning we’ve already overshot our ecological footprint for the year.

Each year since 2000, GFN has calculated the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot:

(World Biocapacity / World Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

Since 2000, our overshoot has advanced in size and speed, according to the GFN, moving from October 1st in 2000 to September 27 in 2011 to August 19 this year. The Network tracks our ecological footprint against nature’s biocapacity — i.e. its ability to replenish the planet’s resources and absorb waste, including CO2.

"Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and an economic problem," Mathis Wackernagel, GFN president and co-creator of the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric, said in a statement. "Countries with resource deficits and low income are exceptionally vulnerable. Even high-income countries that have had the financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realize that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress."

In 1961, we used roughly three-quarters of the earth's capacity that year and most countries had biocapacities larger than their own respective footprints. By the early 1970s, global economic and demographic growth increased humanity’s footprint beyond what the planet could renewably produce, resulting in an ecological overshoot.

Today, GFN says it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable ecological resources necessary to support our current footprint, as 86 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that demand more than their own ecosystems can renew. Projections suggest that humanity will require the biocapacity of three planets well before mid-century.

The organization warns that governments that continue to ignore resource limits might put their long-term economic performance at risk. Countries running biocapacity deficits will find that reducing their resource dependence is aligned with their self-interest

Countries have begun to respond:

  • The Philippines is working to adopt the Ecological Footprint via its National Land Use Act and will be the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. The policy is designed to protect areas from haphazard development and plan for the country's use and management of its own physical resources.
  • The United Arab Emirates intends to significantly reduce its per capita Ecological Footprint (one of the world’s highest — see graphic, left). Starting with carbon emissions, its Energy-Efficiency Lighting Standard will ensure that only energy-efficient indoor lighting products are available throughout the country before the end of this year.
  • Morocco is interested in collaborating with GFN on a review of its 15-year strategy for development of sustainable agriculture, and comprehensively assessing how the plan contributes to the sustainability of the agriculture sector as well as a society-wide transition towards sustainability.

“Regardless of a country’s specific circumstances, incorporating ecological risk into economic planning and development strategy is not just about foresight — it has become an urgent necessity,” says the Network.

For what it’s worth, the CDP released a report last month that says that 207 major cities — including Johannesburg, London, New York, São Paulo, Sydney and Tokyo — have disclosed that climate change presents a physical risk to the businesses operating in their cities, and they are taking concrete action in response. This is nearly double the 110 cities that disclosed last year, perhaps demonstrating the increasing importance that city administrations place on their environmental accountability and performance monitoring.

Will their collective action help push back next year’s Overshoot Day?

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