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Ecological Footprint accounting measures the demand on and supply of nature.
On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint adds up all the productive areas for which a population, a person or a product competes. It measures the ecological assets that a given population or product requires to produce the natural resources it consumes (including plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions.
The Ecological Footprint tracks the use of productive surface areas. Typically these areas are: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon demand on land.
On the supply side, a city, state or nation’s biocapacity represents the productivity of its ecological assets (including cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land). These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also serve to absorb the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel.
Both the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity are expressed in global hectares-globally comparable, standardized hectares with world average productivity.
Each city, state or nation’s Ecological Footprint can be compared to its biocapacity.
If a population’s Ecological Footprint exceeds the region’s biocapacity, that region runs a biocapacity deficit. Its demand for the goods and services that its land and seas can provide-fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption-exceeds what the region’s ecosystems can regenerate. In more popular communications, we also call this an ecological deficit. A region in ecological deficit meets demand by importing, liquidating its own ecological assets (such as overfishing), andor emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If a region’s biocapacity exceeds its Ecological Footprint, it has a biocapacity reserve.
Conceived in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia, the Ecological Footprint launched the broader Footprint movement, including the carbon Footprint, and is now widely used by scientists, businesses, governments, individuals, and institutions working to monitor ecological resource use and advance sustainable development. The most prominent calculations are those produced for countries. We call those the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts.
A rich and accessible introduction to the theory and practice of the approach is available in the book Ecological Footprint: Managing Our Biocapacity Budget (2019).
Global Footprint Network
National ecological surplus or deficit, measured as a country's biocapacity per person (in global hectares) minus its ecological footprint per person (also in global hectares). Data from 2013.
Global Footprint Network develops and promotes tools for advancing sustainability, including the ecological footprint and biocapacity, which measure the amount of resources we use and how much we have. These tools aim at bringing ecological limits to the center of decision-making.
Every year, Global Footprint Network produces a new edition of its National Footprint Accounts, which calculate Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of more than 200 countries and territories from 1961 to the present. Based on up to 15,000 data points per country per year, these data have been used to influence policy in more than a dozen countries, including Ecuador, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.
In April 2017, Global Footprint Network launched the Ecological Footprint Explorer, an open data platform for the National Footprint Accounts. The website provides ecological footprint results for over 200 countries and territories, and encourages researchers, analysts, and decision-makers to visualize and download data.
Earth Overshoot Day
Previously known as Ecological Debt Day, Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humanity has exhausted nature's budget for the year. For the rest of the year, society operates in ecological overshoot by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The first Earth Overshoot Day was December 19, 1987. In 2014, Earth Overshoot Day was August 19. The Earth Overshoot Day in 2015 was on August 13 and on August 8 in 2016. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day landed on August 2.
In 2003, Mathis Wackernagel, PhD, and Susan Burns founded Global Footprint Network, an international think-tank headquartered in Oakland, California, with offices in Geneva and Brussels. Wackernagel received an honorary doctorate in December 2007 from the University of Bern in Switzerland.
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