We are using 50 per cent more natural resources than planet can sustain

Posted: 15 May 2012

The human population of our planet is now consuming 50 per cent more natural resources than it can sustainably produce, according to the latest Living Planet Report. As a result, it is taking 1.5 years for the Earth to absorb the CO2 produced and to regenerate the renewable resources that people use within one year.

The biennial report, issued by WWF, is based upon research by the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network. It says that ‘our ever-growing demand for resources is putting huge pressure on the planet’s biodiversity and threatening our future security and well-being’.

Rio Negro Forest Reserve, Amazonas, Brazil
Rio Negro Forest Reserve, Amazonas, Brazil. © Michel Roggo / WWF-Canon

Launching the report today from the International Space Station, Dutch Astronaut, André Kuipers, said: “We only have one Earth. From up here I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report.”

“While there are unsustainable pressures on the planet, we have the ability to save our home, not only for our benefit, but for generations to come.” said Kuipers.

The report measures the health of 9,014 populations of more than 2,600 species – a thousand more populations than have been monitored by previous editions. This data creates the Living Planet Index, and is presented in the report alongside global ecological and water footprint data.

Among key findings in the report are the following :

  • The global Living Planet Index has declined by up to 30 per cent since 1970.
  • It is currently taking 1.5 years for the Earth to absorb the CO2 produced and regenerate the renewable resources that people use within one year.
  • 2.7 billion people live in areas that experience severe water shortages for at least one month of the year.
  • The per capita Ecological Footprint of a high income country such as the USA is currently six times greater than that of a low income country such as Indonesia.
  • The UK has risen five places from 31st to 27th place in the report’s global consumption ranking, which compares the Ecological Footprint per person, per country.
  • The top 10 countries with the biggest Ecological Footprint per person are: Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, United States of America, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Ireland.

According to the global Living Planet Index, declines in biodiversity are highest in low income countries, demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are suffering the impacts of the lifestyles of wealthier countries.

Very sick planet 

Commenting on the position of the UK, David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK said: “rather like the calm at the eye of a storm, we don't yet see much of the impact of our daily lives on the environment. But we can’t ignore the damage being done elsewhere in the world by the whirlwind consumerism of wealthy countries. We're now in the danger zone, exceeding the planetary boundaries for natural capital. If we continue to use up our planet’s resources faster than it can replace them, soon we’ll have exploited every available corner of the Earth. Thankfully it’s not too late for us to reverse this trend, but we need to address this with the same urgency and determination that we tackled the systemic financial crisis globally."

Global ecological footprint by component
It is taking 1.5 years for the Earth to fully regenerate the renewable resources that people are using in a single year.

Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London said: “This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity. We can restore the planet’s health, but only through addressing the root causes, population growth and over-consumption of resources.”

Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network said: “Growing external resource dependencies are putting countries at significant risk. The ecological crisis is becoming a driver for our growing economic pain. Using ever more nature, while having less is a dangerous strategy, yet most countries continue to pursue this path. Until countries begin tracking and managing their biocapacity deficits, they not only put the planet at risk, but more importantly, themselves.”

This year’s report has been released to coincide with the Rio+ 20 Summit (UN Conference on Sustainable Development), taking place in Brazil in June.

In 1992, world leaders came together to put in place systems to ensure that we tackled climate change and addressed falling biodiversity levels. Twenty years on from the last Earth Summit, this meeting is a key opportunity for global leaders to renew their commitment to creating a sustainable future, WWF says.

“With every day of inaction, we limit the choices for future generations,” said David Nussbaum. “If we keep running down the stock of natural capital, we'll hand them a world less able to sustain life and absorb environmental shocks. Since the original Earth Summit, we've taken some steps forward, but the pace is glacial. So Rio+20 needs to elevate the urgency of action on the scale needed: now is our chance to reflect whether the future we're creating for our planet is the legacy we want to leave for future generations.

To join in the campaign go to www.earthbook2012.com.

To download the Living Planet Report, go here.