Earth Overshoot Day falls three weeks later this year – but are we really making progress?

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date upon which humanity has used up the natural resources that the Earth can regenerate each year. This year the date falls on 22 August, just under a month later than last year’s 29 July, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that progress has been made.

According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), the delayed date is a direct result of the national lockdowns seen across the world during the coronavirus pandemic, which brought production to a halt in many industries.

Earth Overshoot Day stats 2020Laurel Hanscom, CEO of Global Footprint Network, said: “Humanity has been united by the common experience of the pandemic and shown how intertwined our lives are. At the same time, we cannot ignore the deep unevenness of our experiences nor the social, economic, and political tensions which have been exacerbated by this global disaster.

“Making regeneration central to our rebuilding and recovery efforts has the potential to address the imbalances both in human society and in our relationship with the Earth.”

The two major drivers behind the shift in growth of humanity’s ecological footprint are a decrease in wood harvest, and reduced CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption. However, GFN warns that this shift should not be considered tangible progress, believing it is ‘a far cry from the intentional change which is required to achieve both ecological balance and people’s well-being, two inextricable components of sustainability’.

Humanity first fell into an ecological deficit in the early 1970s, and this has been steadily growing ever since – currently, we are using 60 per cent more than what can be renewed, the equivalent to 1.6 Earths.

Whilst major areas of ecological consumption have fallen, the global food footprint appears to have escaped the pandemic unscathed. The global food system suffered significant disruptions this year, including a temporary shutdown of food services and the impossibility for migrant food workers to cross borders, but food waste has continued to increase, along with malnutrition.

Another factor remaining unchanged from last year is the world’s highest footprint – Qatar. The country’s overshoot date falls on 11 February, the same as its 2019 date.

The ecological footprint of Qatar remains completely unchanged from last year, down to the very day. The country’s overshoot date falls on 11 February, making it the highest ecological footprint in the world. Kyrgyzstan brings up the rear with the world’s lowest ecological footprint, with an overshoot date of 26 December.

The United States’ overshoot date falls on 14 March this year, months earlier than China’s date of 13 June. In Europe, Germany’s overshoot date comes on 3 May, followed closely by France’s date of 14 May, which precedes the UK’s date of 16 May by only two days.

GFN, working with Czech partner Mapotic, has developed a new solutions platform to help #MoveTheDate – users can use the platform to share their methods with others, either personal actions or community projections, in a variety of categories including energy, cities, food, nature and human development. The Overshoot Day website also features a portfolio of suggestions to help individuals reduce their ecological footprint.

A green recovery

Moving forward, climate activists, governments and NGOs alike are encouraging a shift towards a circular economy in order to simultaneously recover from the coronavirus pandemic and tackle the climate crisis.

In June, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) urged the UK government to accelerate the country’s transition to a circular economy as part of a Covid-19 recovery plan, labelling the crisis as ‘a defining moment’. In the report, the CCC finds that the UK has fallen short on 14 out of 21 progress indicators, meeting only two of the 31 key policy milestones.

This was preceded by a global call to action earlier that month, with experts urging governments around the world to transition towards a circular economy, where resources and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, with resources only being used if they are 100 per cent reusable or recyclable.

The EU made its commitment to a circular economy clear in May, with the release of its Recovery Plan. The document reiterated pledges previously set out by the Union in its Circular Economy Action Plan and European Green Deal, setting its sights firmly on circular principles and the reduction of Europe’s dependence on foreign materials by preventing waste, boosting recycling and increasing the use of secondary raw materials.

To read more about Earth Overshoot Day, and what you can do to #MoveTheDate, you can visit its website.

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