August 13th was Earth Overshoot Day in 2015. In less than eight months, humanity has used up nature’s budget for the entire year, with carbon sequestration making up more than half of the demand on nature.
It is the Global Footprint Network that tracks humanity’s demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature’s ability to provide for this demand (biocapacity). Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 13th this year.
Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s, when the world went into ecological overshoot. The carbon footprint is inextricably linked to the other components of the Ecological Footprint — cropland, grazing land, forests and productive land built over with buildings and roads. All these demands compete for space. As more is being demanded for food and timber products, fewer productive areas are available to absorb carbon from fossil fuel. This means carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere rather than being fully absorbed.
A Second Chance
The climate agreement expected at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December will focus on maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This shared goal will require nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070, per the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly impacting the Ecological Footprints of nations.
Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030, in keeping with the IPCC’s suggested scenario, Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030 (assuming the rest of the Footprint would continue to expand at the current rate), according to the Global Footprint Network.
This is not impossible. In fact, Denmark has cut its emissions over the last two decades at this rate: Since the 1990s, it reduced its carbon emissions by 33 percent. Had the world done the same (while not changing the rest of the Footprint), Earth Overshoot Day would be on October 3 this year.
With the recent developments on the front line of renewable energy, which have been accelerating worldwide, and by the increasing awareness of the finance industry that a low-carbon economy is the way of the future we might have a chance to turn the tide.