Human demands on natural resources have doubled in under 50 years and are now outstripping what the earth can provide by more than half, a report on the planet’s health warned yesterday.
Wildlife in tropical countries is also under huge pressure, with populations of species falling by 60 per cent in three decades, the biennial Living Planet Report from WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network said.
The world’s people are now living lifestyles which would require one and a half planets to sustain, though there are significant differences between rich and poor nations.
The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium and the US are the five worst countries for over-consumption based on their “ecological footprint” – the amount of land and sea each person needs to provide the food, clothes and other products they consume and to absorb the carbon dioxide they emit. Ireland placed 10th while the UK came 31st.
Much of the “ecological overshoot” is caused by the world’s rising carbon footprint, which has increased 11-fold since 1961.
If humanity carries on as it is in use of resources, globally it will need the capacity of two earths by 2030, the report said. It also carried a warning about the loss of wildlife and ecosystems which people depend on for food, fuel, clean water and other resources – with populations of species declining by 30 per cent worldwide between 1970 and 2007.
In tropical regions, the decline is 60 per cent, but populations have recovered by 30 per cent in temperate areas, where more rich countries are found, possibly due to those nations starting from a lower baseline and efforts to tackle pollution, improve air and water quality, increase forests and conserve wildlife.
The steepest declines in wildlife are happening in low-income countries, which the report warns has serious implications for people depending on those ecosystems as they will struggle to break out of poverty without access to clean water, land, adequate food and materials.
The biggest ecological footprint is made by rich countries – on average five times that found in developing nations – suggesting that unsustainable consumption in wealthier countries relies on depleting resources in poorer parts of the world.
The report also looks at how changes in diet and energy sources could affect humanity’s ecological impact, for example the pressure put on land for food and forest products. The study suggests that if the expected global population of 9.2 billion people in 2050 were to eat a typical Malaysian diet, we would need 1.3 planets to sustain us but if everyone were to eat an Italian diet, humanity would need closer to two planets.
The report is released ahead of international talks in Nagoya, Japan, next week, which aim to address losses in biodiversity – species and ecosystems – being seen around the world.
David Nussbaum, chief executive officer of WWF-UK, said: “The loss of biodiversity and habitats undermines the natural systems upon which we depend for the food we eat, the air we breathe and the stable climate we need.
“The depletion of natural resources caused by human consumption also poses risks to our economic security: For instance, scarcity of resources and degraded natural systems will increase the price of food, raw materials and other commodities.”
Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, which has developed the ecological footprint measure, said: “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.”
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