Much has been written about the positive environmental impacts of the enforced shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Emission of pollutants, aerosols and carbon dioxide have decreased globally and by all accounts, nature has bounced back in the most dramatic ways. Most significantly, this unprecedented cessation has shrunk humanity’s Ecological Footprint, according to the Global Footprint Network.
This year Earth Overshoot Day is pushed back to 22nd August which is over three weeks later than last year. The date reflects a 9.3% reduction of the ecological footprint from January 1st to Earth Overshoot Day, compared to the same period last year. The Global Footprint Network sees this as a direct consequence of the coronavirus-induced lockdowns around the world. Decreases in wood harvest and CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are the major drivers behind the historic shift in the long-term growth of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.
The Ecological Footprint is the most comprehensive biological resource accounting metric available. 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.
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. http://www.footprintnetwork.org
Each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth can renew during the entire year. Humanity currently uses 60% more than what can be renewed – or as much as if we lived on 1.6 planet. From Earth Overshoot Day until the end of the year, humanity grows the ecological deficit which has been increasing steadily since the world fell in ecological overshoot in the early 1970s, according to the National Footprint & Biocapacity Accounts (NFA) based on UN datasets (with 15,000 data points per country per year). Since UN data only stretches to 2016, the global results for 2020 have been assessed using complementary data.
To determine the impact of the pandemic on the carbon Footprint (14.5% decrease), the period from January 1st to Earth Overshoot Day was divided into three segments: January-March, for which the International Energy Agency (IEA) released an analysis of energy and emissions reductions; April-May, when the most restrictive lockdowns occurred; and June-Earth Overshoot Day, during which the gradual loosening of confinement policies is expected.
The forest products Footprint (8.4% decrease) is strongly affected by demand forecasts which, in turn, determines wood harvest. Even though construction has been ongoing during the pandemic, the forestry industry predicted lower demand going forward and quickly reduced harvest rates.
The global food system suffered significant disruptions such as the temporary shutdown of food services and the impossibility for migrant farm workers to cross borders. From farm to table, access both to market and to food has been compromised, increasing food waste and malnutrition simultaneously. Nevertheless, the food Footprint overall seems to have been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 timeframe is possible. As we emerge out of the public health crisis and focus on rebuilding our economies and our lives, strategies informed by biological resource security and 1-planet prosperity are far more likely to bring about the positive outcomes that decision makers seek.
Humanity has absorbed powerful lessons from the pandemic experience. We have learnt that globally, governments are capable of acting swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else. As a species, we are stronger when we act together and even businesses and individuals can effectively collaborate in the pursuit of a shared goal when people recognize that lives are at risk.