The report finds that the USA and China have the largest national footprints, each in total about 21 per cent of global biocapacity (the productive area of the earth), but US citizens each require an average of 9.4 global ha (or nearly 4.5 Planet Earths if the global population had US consumption patterns), while Chinese citizens use on average 2.1 global ha per person.
Population and consumption patterns make three of these countries ecological debtors, with footprints greater than their national biocapacity – the United States (footprint 1.8 times national biocapacity), China (2.3 times) and India ( 2.2 times).
According to Du Plessis, the average individual footprints of South Africans sits at 2.1 global hectares per person slightly below the world average of 2.7gha.
“While this seems very positive,” says Du Plessis, “We must bear in mind that this does not indicate that you and I are necessarily living sustainable lifestyles. There is still a large gap between rich and poor in our nation and the reality is that this creates a biased perception of individual footprints.”
The report also looks at the Living Planet Index (LPI) which reflects the state of the world’s ecosystems. The LPI.of global biodiversity, as measured by populations of almost 2,000 species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish from around the globe, has declined nearly 30 per cent over the period from 1970 -2005. To give some perspective: the 2006 Living Planet Report showed a decline of greater than 20% in the Global LPI for 1970-2003.
A closer focus shows much more vividly where the losses are occurring with the LPI for terrestrial species generally down by 33 per cent, the Freshwater LPI down 35 per cent and the Marine LPI down 14 per cent.
“In South Africa, grasslands sustain major economic, agricultural, industrial and urban centres,” says Du Plessis. “The grasslands in South Africa have an indigenous species diversity which is second only to the Cape Floristic Region.” “A decrease in the LPI of grasslands can be attributed to a number of reasons. In South Africa they are one of the most threatened biomes, due to the pressure of unsustainable development and coal mining in particular,” cautions Du Plessis.
The water footprint of a country is the total volume of water used globally to produce the goods and services consumed by its inhabitants. The new water footprint measures in the report illustrate the significance of water traded in the form of commodities with, for example, a cotton T-shirt requiring 2900 litres of water in its production.
On average, each person consumes, through direct and indirect means, 1.24 million litres of water per year (about half the volume of an Olympic size swimming pool or nearly 3400 litres per day).
“Around 50 countries are currently facing moderate or severe water stress and the number of people suffering from year-round or seasonal water shortages is expected to increase as a result of climate change,” says Dr. Deon Nel, WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership Manager.
South Africa is an example of a water scarce country and through projects like WWF’s Water Neutral Scheme (in partnership with SAB and the Working for Water Programme) which allows participants to quantitatively balance their water-usage accounts through a three-step process of reviewing, reducing and replenishing water supplies, WWF is actively working to address this issue.
The report suggests some key strategies, represented as “sustainability wedges” which, if combined, could stabilise and reverse the slide into ecological debt and enduring damage to global support systems, by reducing the gap between humanity’s footprint and available biocapacity.
“For the single most important challenge – climate change – the report shows that a range of renewable and low emissions “wedges” could meet projected energy demands to 2050 with reductions in carbon emissions of 60 to 80 per cent,” says Worthington.
“These “wedges” could include, for example, technological innovations and measures to reduce individual consumption.”
“We have only one planet. Its capacity to support a thriving diversity of species, humans included, is large but fundamentally limited. When human demand on this capacity exceeds what is available – when we surpass ecological limits – we erode the health of the Earth’s living systems. Ultimately, this loss threatens human well-being,” says Du Plessis.