The modest gains from the pandemic-induced resource-use reductions were short-lived.
We must urgently drive a green economic recovery where all can thrive within the means of the Earth.
Even though there has been an incredible cost to human life and the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, our ecological footprint in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has still more-or-less remained where it was in 2019. Citizens in the CEE Region have again used their entire annual natural resource budget several months before December 31. We have essentially not ‘moved the date’ in 2021. The sudden Ecological Footprint contraction 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. With almost half a year remaining, we will already have used up our quota of the Earth’s biological resources for 2021 by July 29.
The date is almost as early as 2019, after being momentarily pushed back in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic-induced lockdowns. Notable drivers are the 6.6% carbon footprint increase over last year, as well as the 0.5% decrease in global forest biocapacity due in large part to the spike in Amazon deforestation. In Brazil alone, 1.1 million hectares were lost in 2020 and estimates for 2021 indicate up to 43% year-over-year increase in deforestation.
Each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year. Humanity currently uses 74% more than what the planet’s ecosystems can regenerate—or 1.7 Earths. From Earth Overshoot Day until the end of the year, humanity operates on ecological deficit spending. According to the National Footprint & Biocapacity Accounts (NFA) based on UN datasets, this spending is currently some of the largest since the world entered into ecological overshoot in the early 1970s.
‘…This data makes abundantly clear that recovery plans in the post-COVID 19 era can only be successful in the long-term if they embrace regeneration and ecological resource-efficiency’, – Laurel Hanscom, Global Footprint Network CEO .
Despite large variations among European countries, not a single one of them is performing at a sustainable level. In Central and Eastern Europe, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary’s overshoot days have slipped several more days behind; while still half a year behind a balanced ecological footprint, Romania and Ukraine have shown some slight improvement.
|WWF-CEE Country||Overshoot Day 2019||Overshoot Day 2020||Overshoot Day 2021|
|Slovakia||May 22||May 21||May 13|
|Hungary||June 14||June 14||June 8|
|Bulgaria||June 22||June 22||June 10|
|Romania||July 12||July 11||June 21|
|Ukraine||data unavailable||July 24||August 8|
In 2021, the carbon footprint of transportation remains lower than pre-pandemic levels. CO2 emissions from domestic air travel and road transport are set to remain 5% below 2019 levels, while international aviation is expected to register 33% below, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Global energy-related CO2 emissions, on the other hand, are projected to rebound and grow by 4.8% from last year as the economic recovery ignites demand for fossil fuels. In particular, global coal use is anticipated to jump in 2021 and is estimated to contribute 40% of the total carbon footprint this year.
Business-as-usual must be left behind
Last year, as the pandemic hit around the world, governments demonstrated they can act swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else. The perfect storm that is brewing, as climate change impacts and biological resource security converge, requires the same level—or higher—of alertness and swift action from decision-makers.
Overshoot is possible because we are depleting our natural capital – which compromises humanity’s future resource security. The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the forms of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humanity will eventually have to operate within the means of Earth’s ecological resources, whether that balance is restored by disaster or by design. But, there are solutions.
Moving the Date
Moving the date of Earth Overshoot Day back 5 days each year would allow humanity to reach one-planet compatibility before 2050. Solutions that #MoveTheDate are available and financially advantageous.
‘The good news is that Central and Eastern Europe offers plenty of opportunities for applying solutions, from cutting food waste, reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning to conserving the region´s magnificent natural forests and wetlands so that they can continue absorbing carbon from the atmosphere’. – Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director of WWF-CEE.
The #MoveTheDate Solutions Map invites people to champion existing solutions. Users can also connect with each other on the basis of geography and focus of interest, accelerating the implementation of new projects in the real world. Significant opportunities are to be found in five key areas: cities, energy, food, population, and planet.
- The amount of wasted food is equivalent to about 9% of the Global Ecological Footprint. If we cut food waste in half worldwide, we would move the date of Earth Overshoot Day back by 11 days;
- Existing off-the-shelf, commercial technologies for buildings, industrial processes, and electricity production could move Overshoot Day at least 21 days, without any loss in productivity or comfort, according to an analysis by researchers from Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric;
- If we reduce our footprint from driving by 50% around the world and assume one-third of car miles are replaced by public transportation and the rest by biking and walking, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 13 days; and.
Lessons carrying us forward
This year, more than ever, Earth Overshoot Day provides an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on the future we want. Efforts to respond to COVID-19 have demonstrated that shifting ecological resource consumption trends in a short time frame is possible. As we emerge from the public health crisis and focus on rebuilding our economies and our lives, an EU Green Recovery is far more likely to bring about the positive outcomes that decision-makers and citizens seek. Already, powerful lessons can be drawn from the collective experience of the pandemic:
- Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet’s;
- Future pandemics will only be avoided if people learn to live in harmony with nature;
- Governments are capable of acting swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else;
- Humanity is one biology and is stronger when we act together;
- Europe’s long-term stability, safety and prosperity can only be protected by an EU Green Deal and European Green Recovery that incorporates the Paris Agreement, UN Sustainable Development Goals, EU Water Framework Directive, EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030;
- Businesses and individuals alike can effectively align and collaborate in the pursuit of a shared goal when people recognise that their own lives, and that of the people they love, may be at risk;
- The necessary actions required to protect oneself, one’s household, and one’s community also protect others; one’s decisions at all levels have consequences for all; and
- There is no health without a healthy planet.
We have witnessed what is possible when humanity comes together to pursue a shared outcome. What shared outcome could be more important than our long-term survival on our finite planet?
- Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe, Tel: +43-676-8427, email@example.com
- Amanda Diep, Global Footprint Network, +1 (510) 839-8879 x 304 (California, USA)
- How Earth Overshoot Day 2021 was calculated
- How to compare the date of Earth Overshoot Day to previous years
*NOTE: If we continued as now, we would be at 9.7 billion (the UN medium variant estimate). If each mother had on average of 1.8 children, compared to 2.3 currently, and motherhood was delayed by 2 years, we’d be at 7.7 billion. Assuming Ecological Footprint per capita stays at 2020 level (2.47 gha per person), the difference in 2050 would be 49 days.
About the Ecological Footprint
The Ecological Footprint is the most comprehensive biological resource accounting metric available. On the basis of 15,000 data points per country per year, it adds up all of people’s competing demands for biologically productive areas – food, timber, fibers, carbon sequestration, and accommodation of infrastructure. Currently, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel make up 60 percent of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts are now produced by FoDaFo with York University in Toronto.
About Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network is an international sustainability organization that is helping the world live within the Earth’s means and respond to climate change. Since 2003 we’ve engaged with more than 50 countries, 30 cities, and 70 global partners to deliver scientific insights that have driven high-impact policy and investment decisions. Together, we’re creating a future where all of us can thrive within the limits of our one planet. www.footprintnetwork.