European Union Releases First Ecological Footprint Report

European Union Releases First Ecological Footprint Report

WWF and Global Footprint Network have released a new report showing that Europe uses 20% of the biosphere's services to serve 7% of the world's population -- a resource demand that has risen nearly 70% since 1961.

Europe 2005: The Ecological Footprint is based on Global Footprint Network's National Footprint Accounts and presents case study and time trend data for France, Germany, Greece, Poland, and the United Kingdom as well as a comparison of the footprint of 25 European nations.

The report marks the first time Europe has ever tracked and studied its ecological spending in relation to planetary limits, only to find that its use of ecosystem services -- such as food, fiber, energy, and land -- has created an ecological deficit for the entire region. The result: Europe's consumption levels can continue to grow only by importing more natural resources, such as wood, metals or fish, from other countries and dumping more of its CO2 waste into the global atmosphere.

According to the report, the EU countries with the highest demand per person are Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, and France, using between three and four times the worldwide average biological capacity available per person. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have lower demands but are still using about twice the average amount of resources available per person.

Key findings of the report include the following:
  • Europe's Competitiveness.With a footprint more than double its own biological capacity, Europe's well-being depends on ecological capacity from elsewhere. As long as its ecological deficit is unaddressed, Europe is loosing its room to manoeuvre. Hence reducing its Ecological Footprint is essential for Europe's competitiveness.

    "While it is still cheap to run an ecological deficit, if humanity's current levels of resource consumption continue, such a deficit will become an increasing liability for countries," says Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of Global Footprint Network and lead-author of the report, "This deficit spending will jeopardize Europe's long-term prosperity if it is not seriously addressed."

    The longer overshoot is left unchecked, the more expensive the investment required, and the greater the risk that critical ecosystems will be eroded beyond the point at which they can easily recover. As Europe's and the world's ecological debt accumulates, choices narrow, and present resource use becomes ever more dependent on liquidating ecological assets.

  • Resource Squeeze on the World's Poor. The resource crunch may not be felt yet in Europe where resource consumption is still increasing, but many of the 5.2 billion people living in low and middle income countries - large numbers of whom struggle to meet their basic material needs - have been facing an involuntary decline in their quality of life. Addressing these growing social discrepancies will be critical to global security and all people's economic prosperity.

  • Options for Europe. The challenges posed in the report also present significant opportunities for Europe. Europe can lead the world by investing in innovations in the areas of food, health, nature management, mobility, and shelter. A green energy future, for instance, will not only be needed in Europe: by being ahead, Europe can guide the world with technologies that drive sustainability. Europe can build transport and city infrastructure that facilitates rather than thwarts the transition to a sustainable future.

  • Benchmarking Is Key. As Europe embarks on this new path to sustainable development it will need ways of knowing how far we have come and how far it still has to go. The measurement tools presented in Europe 2005: The Ecological Footprint can help Europe determine whether its actions get it closer to its goals.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has endorsed the report, which will be used to inform a larger EU effort to craft a sustainable development strategy for the region. In the foreward Barroso also acknowledges the need to understand planetary limits. He writes, "[Sustainable development] requires amongst other things safeguarding the Earth's capacity to support life in all its diversity and respecting the limits of the planet's natural resources."