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Europe 2005: The Ecological Footprint
Jon Lebkowsky, 2 Dec 05

eufootprint.jpgThe European Environment Agency, working with the World Wildlife Foundation and the Global Footprint Network, has produced a 2005 Edition of the National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts showing that, as of 2002, "humanity's demand on the biosphere, its global Ecological Footprint, was 13.7 billion global hectares, or 2.2 global hectares per person."

Thus in 2002, humanity's Ecological Footprint exceeded global biocapacity by 0.4 global hectares per person, or 23 percent. This finding indicates that the human economy is in ecological overshoot: the planet's ecological stocks are being depleted faster than nature can regenerate them. This means that we are eroding the future supply of ecological resources and operating at the risk of environmental collapse.

The Ecological Footprint is a measure that compares the ecological demands of human economies to the resources within the biosphere available to meet those demands. The EEA report calculates a footprint for EU and other nations, and looks at the UN's Human Development Index for each. The Human Development Index shows how conducive conditions are in a given nation for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives. A high Index rating often means a large footprint – the chart shows that the USA rates .94 and has a 9.5 footprint, which means that its citizens use 9.5 the available resources. This is the hights ecological footprint, next down are Sweden and Finland with 7.0 each. Compare this to Ethiopia, which has the lowest Index rating (0.36) and smallest footprint (0.7).

I've said before that the Earth's resources won't support extension of the USA's standard of living, but it's more useful to say that the Earth's resources won't support any nation with a large footprint, any more than a bank will support unlimited overdrafts. What all nations should aim for is a high rating on the Human Development Index and a low footprint. The EEA report acknowledges this, and includes "possible options that can reduce Europe’s demand on nature while maintaining or improving its competitiveness." Those options are in the areas of new economics, better regulation, trade and development, green infrastructure, and climate change. This is a challenge for Europe, and even more of a challenge globally.

The EEA has also published a five year report called "The European Environment: State and Outlook 2005." This report "provides an overview of Europe's environment and points to challenges of which climate change is just one. Other areas of concern include biodiversity, marine ecosystems, land and water resources, air pollution and health." The report says that past environmental legislation has worked, though slowly, but changes in personal consumption patterns are threatening to overtake environmental successes. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive director of the EEA, says "With the necessary incentives built in, such reforms will lead to more investment, innovation and competitiveness. We have already seen this in practice in certain countries and sectors. Strong taxation of petrol in Europe and high regulatory standards led to cars that have been almost twice as fuel efficient as cars on America's roads, in recent decades. We have seen the cost of inaction in terms of people's lives and our environment with examples such as the collapse of fish stocks, the use of asbestos in buildings, acid rain and lead in petrol. It pays to act now to secure the long term"


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The "European Environment: State and Outlook 2005" report also reports that EU-15 countries - the longest standing 15 memebers of the EU - are not on track to meet their 2010 Kyoto targets for GHG reductions.

Posted by: Jesse Jenkins on 3 Dec 05



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