The Footprint of Europe
EUROPE 2005 REPORT At the European Parliament today, WWF and Global Footprint Network launched EUROPE 2005: The Ecological Footprint, a report showing that Europe uses 20 percent of the biosphere’s services to serve seven percent of the world’s population – a resource demand that has risen nearly 70 percent since 1961. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, has endorsed the report, which will be used to inform a larger EU effort to craft a sustainable development strategy for the region. In the forword Barroso also acknowledges the need to understand planetary limits. He writes, “[Sustainable development] requires amongst other things safeguarding the Earth’s capacity to support life in all its diversity and respecting the limits of the planet’s natural resources.”
Europe 2005: The Ecological Footprint is based on Global Footprint Network’s National Footprint Accounts and presents case study and time trend data for France, Germany, Greece, Poland, and the United Kingdom as well as a comparison of the Footprint of 25 European nations. The report marks the first time Europe has ever tracked and studied its ecological spending in relation to planetary limits, only to find that its use of ecosystem services – such as food, fibre, energy, and land – has created an ecological deficit for the entire region.
The result: Europe’s consumption levels can continue to grow only by importing more natural resources, such as wood, metals or fish, from other countries and dumping more of its CO2 waste into the global atmosphere. According to the report, the EU countries with the highest demand per person are Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, and France, using between three and four times the worldwide average biological capacity available per person. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have lower demands but are still using about twice the average amount of resources available per person.
With a footprint more than double its own biological capacity, Europe’s well-being depends on ecological capacity from elsewhere. As long as its ecological deficit is unaddressed, Europe is loosing its room to manoeuvre. Hence reducing its Ecological Footprint is essential for Europe’s competitiveness. “While it is still cheap to run an ecological deficit, if humanity’s current levels of resource consumption continue, such a deficit will become an increasing liability for countries,” says Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network and lead-author of the report, “This deficit spending will jeopardize Europe’s long-term prosperity if it is not seriously addressed.” The longer overshoot is left unchecked, the more expensive the investment required, and the greater the risk that critical ecosystems will be eroded beyond the point at which they can easily recover. As Europe’s and the world’s ecological debt accumulates, choices narrow, and present resource use becomes ever more dependent on liquidating ecological assets.