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Ecological Footprint

Indicator description

The Ecological Footprint compares human demand on nature against nature supply. Demand is measured in terms of biologically productive areas a population uses for producing all the renewable resources it consumes and absorbing its waste. The availability of nature, called biocapacity, is measured in surface area, and represents the regenerative capacity of nature. An increase in a nation’s Ecological Footprint stands for an increase in its population’s pressure on biodiversity and a greater risk of biodiversity loss.

Related Aichi Targets

Primary target

4

Target 4:

By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

Primary target

4

Target 4:

By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

4

Related SDGs

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GOAL 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Target 8.4| Relevant indicator

Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead

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GOAL 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Target 12.2| Relevant indicator

By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources.

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GOAL 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

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GOAL 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

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Other related MEAs and processes

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CMS

Target 5| Relevant indicator

Governments, key sectors and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption, keeping the impacts of natural resource use on migratory species well within safe ecological limits to promote the favourable conservation status of migratory species and maintain the quality, integrity, resilience, and connectivity of their habitats and migratory routes.

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IPBES Global Assessment Chapters

Chapter 2| Official indicator

Status and trends; indirect and direct drivers of change

Chapter 3| Official indicator

Progress towards meeting major international objectives related to biodiversity and ecosystem services

Chapter 5| Official indicator

Scenarios and pathways towards a sustainable future

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IPBES Regional Assessment Chapters

Chapter 1| Official indicator

Setting the scene

Chapter 4| Official indicator

Direct and indirect drivers of change in the context of different perspectives of quality of life

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Ramsar

Target 13| Relevant indicator

Enhanced sustainability of key sectors such as water, energy, mining, agriculture, tourism, urban development, infrastructure, industry, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries when they affect wetlands, contributing to biodiversity conservation and human livelihoods

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UNCCD

Outcome 2.1| Relevant indicator

Policy, institutional, financial and socio-economic drivers of desertification/land degradation and barriers to sustainable land management are assessed, and appropriate measures to remove these barriers are recommended.

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CMS

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IPBES Global Assessment Chapters

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IPBES Regional Assessment Chapters

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Ramsar

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UNCCD

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Themes

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Sustainable use of natural resources and land

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Partners

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Key indicator facts

Indicator type

Pressure

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Indicator type

Pressure

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Last update

2016

Coverage

Global

Availability

Not freely available

Indicator description

The Ecological Footprint compares human demand on nature against nature supply. Demand is measured in terms of biologically productive areas a population uses for producing all the renewable resources it consumes and absorbing its waste. The availability of nature, called biocapacity, is measured in surface area, and represents the regenerative capacity of nature. An increase in a nation’s Ecological Footprint stands for an increase in its population’s pressure on biodiversity and a greater risk of biodiversity loss.

Contact point

Graphs / Diagrams

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Figure 1. Humanity’s Ecological Footprint by component,1961-2012. Source: Global Footprint Network, 2016.

Current storyline

Direct anthropogenic threats to biodiversity include habitat loss or damage, resource overexploitation, pollution, invasive species and climate change. These direct threats are the result of more distant, indirect drivers of biodiversity loss arising from consumption of resources and the generation of waste. The ultimate drivers of threats to biodiversity are human demands for food, fibre and timber, water, energy and area on which to build infrastructure.

The Ecological Footprint measures the pressure such demands place on the regenerative capacity of productive ecosystems, measured through a sister indicator called biocapacity. The main aim of Ecological Footprint methodology is to promote recognition of ecological limits. This recognition should help safeguard the ecosystems’ viability (such as healthy forests, clean air, fertile soils and biodiversity) and life-supporting services.

Globally, the Ecological Footprint shows that in 2012 – the latest year for which data is available – humans demanded 1.6 planets worth of ecological resources and services, compared to only 0.7 planets worth in 1961 (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Humanity’s Ecological Footprint by component,1961-2012. Source: Global Footprint Network, 2016.

While these demands have increased for all land types, demand placed on forest ecosystems for timber products and carbon sequestration has increased fastest (see Figure 1). Moreover, countries’ average per capita Ecological Footprints vary due to varying lifestyles and consumption patterns: compared to an average global availability of about 1.7 global hectares in 2012, average per capita Ecological Footprint is approximately 6.2 gha (increased from 5 gha in 1961) in high-income countries, about 2.3 gha (increased from 1.4 gha in 1961) in middle-income countries and approximately 1 gha (almost unvaried since 1961) in low-income countries. Comparing national demands against national biocapacities indicates the presence of significant biocapacity deficits in many countries (see Figures 2 and 3). When such biocapacity deficits take place, stocks are likely being depleted, and/or emissions accumulating in the biosphere (such as CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans). Thus a minimum condition for sustainable consumption is not being met. When this is the case, competition for ecological resources and reductions in area for biodiversity result in pressure on species populations and, ultimately, biodiversity loss. A reduction in countries’ Ecological Footprint, and especially the elimination of a global overshoot, would indicate reduced pressure on the world’s ecological resources and a lower risk of biodiversity loss.

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Figure 2. Ecological Footprint vs. Biocapacity for world countries, 1961. Biocapacity reserve (green) is defined as a domestic Ecological Footprint of consumption less than domestic biocapacity; biocapacity deficit (red) as an Ecological Footprint of consumption greater than domestic biocapacity. Source: Global Footprint Network, 2016.

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Figure 3. Ecological Footprint vs. Biocapacity for world countries, 2012. Biocapacity reserve (green) is defined as a domestic Ecological Footprint of consumption less than domestic biocapacity; biocapacity deficit (red) as an Ecological footprint of consumption greater than domestic biocapacity. Source: Global Footprint Network, 2016.

Data and methodology

Coverage: Global, regional, national.

Scale: Regional and Global results are aggregated from national data.

Time series available: 1961-2012.

Next planned update: 2017 (covering the period 1961-2013).

Possible disaggregations: Regional and national level. * Sub-national level can also be derived upon request.

Metadata used: National Ecological Footprint values are derived from internally recognized data-bases, such as the UN-FAO, IEA, UN COMTRADE as well as data from peer-reviewed publications. Full details on the data sources used for calculating this indicator can be found in Borucke et al., 2013 and Galli et al., 2014.

Methodology: Ecological Footprint Accounting addresses one key question: How much of the biosphere’s regenerative capacity (or biocapacity) for natural resources and ecological services do human activities demand?

It does so by means of two metrics: Ecological Footprint and biocapacity:

Ecological Footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area (biocapacity) required to produce the food, fibre and renewable raw materials an individual, population or activity consumes, and to absorb carbon dioxide emissions they generate, given prevailing technology and resource management. Both a production and a consumption perspective are provided, with this latter representing the most commonly used and reported perspective. A country’s Ecological Footprint of consumption (EFC) is derived by tracking the biologically productive land demanded to produce the resources and services “harvested” within the geographical boundaries of such country, plus those imported and minus those exported. The six demand categories considered are: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, forest products, carbon and built-up land Footprints.
Biocapacity measures the bioproductive areas available to provide food, fibre, and renewable raw materials as well as sequester carbon dioxide. Biocapacity is measured for five categories of bioproductive surfaces: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, forest land, and built-up land, which satisfy human demands in the six Footprint categories described above. Because forest land biocapacity can be used either to generate forest products to harvest or to sequester carbon, this land type satisfies two demand categories (Wackernagel et al., 2014; Mancini et al., 2016).

Ecological Footprint and biocapacity are expressed in a common hectare-equivalent unit called global hectare (gha), where 1 gha represents a biologically productive hectare with world average productivity.

Results come typically with a four year delay between year of publication and year of the analysis. Global and country-level now-casted estimates (up to year 2016) are available as well as global business-as-usual projections (up to year 2020).

National use of indicator

Use at the national level: Since its inception in 2003, Global Footprint Network has engaged with 69 nations to make ecological limits central to decision making. 22 nations have completed a research collaboration or conducted a review of their Footprint and 13 nations have officially adopted the Ecological Footprint. The ultimate goal is for nations to use the Footprint framework to shift policies and investments. Two governments currently using the Ecological Footprint as a policy and decision-making tool for accounting resource consumption and pressure generation include: the United Arab Emirates have just completed a study investigating Footprint reduction strategies for the country (to assist in the development of science-based policies); while Ecuador became the first country to set a specific Footprint reduction target into its National Development Plan, that its Footprint be within its biocapacity by 2013.

Moreover, in September 2016 a ballot initiative was set for the first time in Switzerland to vote for Footprint reduction and implementation of an article in the constitution dealing with the need to keep the balance between the capacity of Nature to renew itself and the human demand on it. In China, the Province of Guizhou is in close collaboration with Global Footprint Network to create a data framework based on Ecological Footprint Accountings that would drive decision makers for economic development. As of July 2016, the Ecological Footprint has been included as one of the indicators to use for monitoring national progresses against the recently adopted National Strategy for Sustainable Development of Montenegro. Japan has adopted the Footprint as part of Japan’s Basic Environmental Plan and, lastly, the Philippines are in the process of finalizing their first National Land-Use Act, which will incorporate the Ecological Footprint as a national indicator.

Producing this indicator nationally: Ecological Footprint and biocapacity values have been published for more than 160 nations as part of the National Footprint Accounts produced by Global Footprint Network since 2003.

A new edition of the National Footprint Accounts is independently calculated by Global Footprint Network and released every year: the most recent edition of the NFA accounts (the NFA 2016 edition) covers the period 1961-2012. Detailed information on the methodology used to calculate nations’ Ecological Footprints as well as input data and data handling processes are reported in Galli et al., 2014 and Borucke et al., 2013.

Applied at the national level, Ecological Footprint provides a proxy measure of underlying drivers of habitat loss (directly) and biodiversity loss (indirectly). Its results show that significant biocapacity deficits (when national consumption of provisioning and regulatory ecosystem services exceeds the capacity of national ecosystems to supply these services) exist in many countries and allow distinguishing between countries that are driving global displacement of human-induced pressure and countries where such pressure displacement is taking place (see Galli et al., 2014). Due to the global interconnectedness of national economies, results seem to indicate that, for many countries, pressure on ecosystems and the consequent habitat loss could be more effectively addressed by reducing the demand for resource provisioning and regulatory ecosystem services elsewhere.

Those interested in producing this indicator at the national or regional level can visit the online database or email Dr. Alessandro Galli, Senior Scientist and Director of Mediterranean Program (alessandro.galli@footprintnetwork.org). Moreover, beginning with the NFA 2017 edition in early 2017, Global Footprint Network will be offering free national data packages.

Further resources