A CONTINUOUSLY rising demand for natural resources and increasing levels of CO₂ in the atmosphere by a growing population are putting tremendous pressures on our planet’s biodiversity, and are threatening our future security, health and well-being, reveals the 2014 edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report – the leading biennial survey of the Earth’s health.
Globally, populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles measured for the report have declined by 52 per cent since 1970; and freshwater species have suffered a 76 per cent decline - an average loss almost double that of land and marine species.
One of the report indicators on the state of the planet, the Ecological Footprint, shows that all of the 27 European Union (EU) countries surveyed are living beyond “one planet” levels and are also relying heavily on the natural resources of other countries. If everyone on the planet lived the average lifestyle of a resident of European Union, humanity would need 2.6 Earths to sustain our demand on nature.
“The EU’s Ecological Footprint is big. Our economic activities are contributing to the loss of biodiversity and habitats both at home and abroad - this undermines the natural systems upon which we depend for the food we eat, the air we breathe and the stable climate we need”, says Tony Long, Director at WWF’s European Policy Office.
The climate connection
Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – the main cause of global warming – are already impacting the planet’s biodiversity and bio-capacity, along with human well-being, particularly with regard to food and water security. Europe’s carbon footprint makes up nearly 50% of its total ecological footprint, due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
However solutions are at hand, as the report arrives at an important moment for EU and global climate and energy policy. In Europe, the European Council taking place in Brussels on 23 and 24 October will see Heads of State deciding on an EU climate and energy package until 2030; whilst at global level, the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima in December and especially in Paris in 2015, will be the place where governments will try to reach a global agreement to curb the dangerous effects of global warming.
“Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU have dropped quite a bit since the 1990’s, but that doesn’t mean we can become complacent. We still have quite a way to go to cut emissions to within safe limits”, says Tony Long. “Solutions exist, but the EU needs to agree on stronger climate and energy targets to bring us into a new era, where Europe shoulders its global responsibilities”.
Highest and lowest Ecological Footprints in the EU
Out of the EU Member States evaluated, Belgium, the country which hosts the European Institutions, has one of the world’s largest Ecological Footprints per person, requiring an equivalent of 4.3 Earths if everyone lived like an average resident of Belgium, and ranking 5th globally behind countries like Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
This is principally due to Belgium’s carbon footprint, which makes up 43 per cent of its total Ecological Footprint. “It is clear that as far as energy use and energy efficiency is concerned, Belgium is not amongst the best performing countries, as it is more energy intensive for buildings and the transport sector. The low occupancy rate of cars, the tight road network and the low taxes for diesel contribute to a higher amount of ‘vehicle kilometres’ per person, and therefore also to a higher Ecological Footprint”, says Damien Vincent, CEO of WWF Belgium.
“Belgian policy is not fully tapping the potential for reducing its carbon footprint, in particular with regards to its building stock - if no new measures are taken, the country will not reach its emission reduction target for 2020. The country has to show more vision, ambition and coordination to drive down its CO2-emissions in the short, medium and long term”, concludes Damien Vincent.
Romania has the lowest Ecological Footprint in the EU, at an equivalent of 1.4 earths. “The result is much more related to the breakdown of industry and much less to the strategic vision of the governments. Although some steps have been taken on the path to a sustainable forest or river management, the holistic approach which incorporates climate change and nature in the general planning process is missing”, says Magor Csibi, Director of WWF Danube Carpathian Programme Romania.
“The challenge for Romania, as for much of the world, will be to advance economic prosperity and human development significantly – without expanding its footprint to the same levels as Belgium and other EU countries. This will require a strong focus on efficiency and the uptake of the most sustainable technologies and practices”, continues Magor Csibi.
So how can we heal the planet?
We all take nature for granted. Global overshoot happens because we cut timber more quickly than trees regrow, fish more fish than can be replenished, pump freshwater faster than groundwater restocks, and release CO₂ faster than nature can sequester it. All these resources and natural systems are under immense pressure.
“Our planet is in bad shape but there are solutions. For people, businesses and the economy to continue thriving by tapping into what nature has to offer, we need to protect it, produce better, consume more wisely and move to economic models that value nature”, concludes Tony Long.
WWF's “One Planet Perspective” shows how every corner of the globe can contribute to maintaining a footprint that doesn't outpace Earth's ability to renew. By following WWF’s programme for one planet living, society can begin reversing the trends indicated in the Living Planet Report 2014.
The complete report, summary and support material can be found at www.wwf.eu/LPR