Wales’ climbing ecological overdraft

Ann Meikle says the Welsh Government must hold its ground in delivering its carbon footprint reduction commitments

The WWF’s latest Living Planet report, a survey on the state of the world’s ecological health, shows humanity’s demands on natural resources are sky-rocketing to 50 per cent more than the earth can sustain. This has resulted in a 30 per cent decline in species and wildlife populations globally since 1970. There is an alarming rate of biodiversity loss in low-income, often tropical countries. Meanwhile, the developed world, including Wales, is living in a false paradise, fuelled by unsustainable levels of consumption and high carbon emissions.

WWF’s 2010 Living Planet report, launched this week via a live, interactive global webcast, can be found here:

The biennial report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, uses the global Living Planet Index as a measure of the health of almost 8,000 populations of more than 2,500 species.

WWF Cymru’s manifesto for the 2011 election can be accessed at:

The Ecological Footprint, one of the indicators used in the report, shows that our demand on natural resources has doubled since 1966 and we’re using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities. If we continue living beyond the Earth’s limits, by 2030 we’ll need the equivalent of two planets’ productive capacity to meet our annual demands.

When we compare Wales with the rest of the world’s nations, we can see that we are using much more than our fair share of the world’s resources. The Welsh Government must hold its ground in delivering the footprint reduction commitments in the One Wales: One Planet scheme especially in key areas such as housing, food and transport.

The report adds compelling evidence as to why the next Welsh Government should stabilise and then reduce Wales’ ecological footprint annually. To achieve its commitments in One Planet Wales our ecological footprint needs to reduce by 75 per cent by 2050. However, the plans and targets to achieve this are not clear enough, nor fully embedded within Welsh Government policies.

The report also shows that carbon is a major culprit in driving the planet to ecological overdraft. An alarming 11-fold increase in our carbon footprint over the last five decades means carbon now accounts for more than half the global Ecological Footprint. The urgency of translating the Welsh Climate Change Strategy into meaningful action that can secure 40 per cent emissions reductions by 2020 in Wales is clear. So, too, is the important commitment within it to measure emissions from a consumption perspective. The challenge will now be to actually reduce these emissions from our consumption patterns as well as the direct emissions the strategy already attempts to tackle.

Further findings of the Living Planet Report include:

  • Starkly divergent trends are emerging between tropical and temperate regions. The tropical Living Planning Index has declined by 60 per cent while the temperate Index has increased by almost 30 per cent. The recovery of species’ populations in temperate areas could be thanks in part to greater conservation efforts and improvements in pollution and waste control.
  • Tracked populations of freshwater tropical species have fallen by nearly 70 per cent – greater than any species’ decline measured on land or in our oceans.
  • New analysis in the report shows that the steepest declines in biodiversity are in low-income countries, with a nearly 60 per cent decline in less than 40 years.
  • The biggest footprint is found in high-income countries, on average five times that of low-income countries. This suggests that unsustainable consumption in wealthier nations depends largely on depleting the natural resources of poorer yet ‘resource rich’ tropical countries.
  • High footprint and high levels of consumption, which often come at the cost of others, are not reflected in higher levels of development. The UN Human Development Index, which looks at life expectancy, income and educational attainment, can be high in countries with a moderate footprint.
  • The top ten countries with the biggest Ecological Footprint per person are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium, United States, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Kuwait and Ireland. The 31 OECD countries, which include the world’s richest economies, account for nearly 40 per cent of the global footprint. While there are twice as many people living in BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – as there are in OECD countries, the report shows the current rate of per-person footprint of the BRIC countries puts them on a trajectory to overtake the OECD bloc if they follow same development path.

The challenge posed by the Living Planet Report is clear. Somehow we need to find a way to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous population within the resources of this one planet. All of us have to find a way to make better choices in what we consume and how we produce and use energy.

For the first time, the report looks at how changes in diet and energy sources could affect the Ecological Footprint. A key issue considered is ‘land competition’, with pressures on production of forest products and food putting into question whether we have enough land available to preserve essential ecosystem services. A comparison of the relative impact of Italian and Malaysian diets compares scenarios for 2050 in which 9.2 billion people eating a typical Malaysian diet would consume the resources of just under 1.3 planets, However, if they follow an Italian diet that would take us closer to two planets. Therefore those choices in diet and energy consumption we make in the UK will be critical to reducing footprint, and improved efforts to value and invest in our natural capital will be essential.

Species are the foundation of our ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems form the basis of all we have. Lose them and we destroy our life support system. As Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network, says:

“Countries that maintain high levels of resource dependence are putting their own economies at risk. Those countries that are able to provide the highest quality of life on the lowest amount of ecological demand will not only serve the global interest, they will be the leaders in a resource-constrained world.”

Ann Meikle is Head of WWF Cymru.

One thought on “Wales’ climbing ecological overdraft

  1. I agree fully..good article…what Wales can do is really promote wholeheartedly public transport and cycle-commuting….
    promote Afforestation and stop all these farm grants such as Glastir, concentrate on woodland grants for carbon sequestration

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