Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the International Development Journal, an online journal offering a platform to engage in debate and discussions on global policies and current affairs.
The recent passing of Earth Overshoot Day greatly emphasises the need to obtain additional financing to help combat the threats of climate change. Earth Overshoot Day “Marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.”
For 2017, Earth Overshoot Day was 2 August. It was reached as a result of mankind’s overfishing, over-harvesting of forests and by emitting more carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere than forests can sequester.
Country Overshoot Days have also been calculated by the international research organisation Global Footprint Network. This is the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like people in a particular individual country. Luxembourg is the worst performing country with a Country Overshoot Day of 17 February 2017 while Honduras is the best performer with a Country Overshoot Day of 31 December. This essentially means that if everyone in the world consumed resources in the way that Honduras does the Earth’s resources would last one full year (365 days) but if they consumed resources in the way that the population of Luxembourg currently does they would last approximately one and a half months or 48 days.
Despite the apparent despair, “Thriving lives within the means of our planet are not out of reach. Plenty of solutions exist in four major areas for improving sustainability [including] food, cities, population and energy.” A concerted campaign to change mindsets, reduce climate change emissions and promote environmental awareness has begun in order to #movethedate and prolong the longevity of the Earth’s precious and finite resources. What is evident though is that all four of these major sustainability areas will require increased financing.
Food is an important area for improving sustainability as it makes up 26%, or more than one quarter, of the Earth’s global ecological footprint. As such, two major issues have been identified which, if addressed, would contribute to enhanced sustainability. The first major issue is the need to increase the efficiency of producing food. One way in which this can be done is by encouraging greater human consumption of vegetables and grains and by reducing meat consumption. The second method is to dramatically reduce the amount of food that is lost or wasted. At present, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. If global food waste is cut by half the Earth Overshoot Day would be pushed back an additional 11 days.
The second major area for improving sustainability is in cities where 80% of the world’s population are expected to reside by 2050. Earth Overshoot Day’s website claims “The global effort for sustainability will be won, or lost, in the world’s cities.” Here, finance will be required to, amongst other things, help fund energy efficient buildings and provide access to safe, affordable and sustainable transport systems for all. Earth Overshoot Day would move back 10 days if driving rates around the world are reduced by 10%.
“The more of us there are, the less planet there is per person” claims Earth Overshoot Day who suggest concrete measures for addressing an increasing global population and enhancing sustainability. Educating girls and women is seen as crucial as is empowering them to ensure they are respected and viewed as equal partners in all spheres of life. Yet, providing education to more girls and women will require increased financial resources as well as changed policies and mindsets in many parts of the world. Calculations suggest that if every other family in the world had one less child World Overshoot Day would be pushed back 30 days.
The final major area identified is energy as the carbon footprint makes up 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint. As such “Decarbonizing the economy [is seen as] our best possible chance to address climate change” and reducing humanity’s carbon footprint by 50% would move Earth Overshoot Day back by 89 days. Increased financing, innovative solutions, supportive business and government policies and further awareness raising will all be required to meet the United Nations 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change and phase out fossil fuels by 2050.
The concept of Earth Overshoot Day is important because it highlights exactly how much of the Earth’s precious natural resources are being used and how quickly they are being used. It shows that humanity’s current rate of consumption is far above what it should be if the Earth is to continually regenerate itself. It also neatly illustrates the roles that individuals, societies and governments can play and the resources that will be required to transition to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable society. Many of these resources will require new and/or increased funding obtained through innovative, new and environmentally friendly sources and mechanisms. If these are obtained then people and communities will be able to help #movethedate and continue pushing back World Overshoot Day.
[Cover Image: Flickr/Michel Rathwell]