NEW DELHI: The world is headed for an ecological credit crunch as human demands on its natural capital have reached one- third more than what the earth can sustain.
This warning comes in the latest edition of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report. In addition, global natural wealth and diversity continue to decline, and more and more countries are slipping into a state of permanent or seasonal water stress.
“We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically – seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences which are even graver than the current economic meltdown.”
The report, published every two years, shows a near 30 per cent decline since 1970 in nearly 5,000 populations of 1,686 species.
These dramatic losses in natural wealth are driven by deforestation and land conversion in the tropics (50 per cent), and the impact of dams, diversions and climate change on freshwater species (35 per cent decline). Pollution, over-fishing and destructive fishing in marine and coastal environments are also taking their toll.
According to the report, produced with the support of the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, more than three-quarters of the world’s people now live in countries that are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped their country’s biological capacity.
“Most of us are propping up our current lifestyles and our economic growth, by drawing – and increasingly overdrawing – on the ecological capital of other parts of the world, says WWF International Director-General James Leape. “If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by mid-2030 we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.”
Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and land disturbances are the greatest component of humanity’s footprint, underlining the key threat of climate change.
The U.S. and China have the largest national footprints, each accounting for total of about 21 per cent of the global biocapacity, but each U.S. citizen requires an average of 9.4 global hectares while Chinese use an average of 2.1 global hectares per person.
Biocapacity is unevenly distributed, with eight countries – the U.S., Brazil, Russia, China, India, Canada, Argentina and Australia – having more than half the world total.
Population and consumption patterns make three of these countries ecological debtors, with footprints greater than their national biocapacity – the U.S. (footprint 1.8 times national biocapacity), China (2.3 times) and India (2.2 times).
This can be contrasted with Congo with the seventh highest per person biocapacity of 13.9 hectares and an average footprint of just 0.5 global hectares, but facing a future of degrading biocapacity from deforestation and increased demands from a rising population and export pressures.
Around 50 countries are facing moderate or severe water stress and the number of people suffering from year-round or seasonal shortages is expected to increase as a result of climate change.