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Earth Overshoot Day: Growing global consumption

Interview: Charlotta LomasAugust 19, 2014

Nature's budget has already expired for the year. DW talks to World Wildlife Federation's Jörg-Andreas Krüger about the increase in global consumption of the planet's natural resources.

Logging in Indonesian rainforest (Copyright: Imago)
Image: Imago

Taking data from the official statistics of 150 countries, WWF and the international think tank Global Footprint Network on Tuesday (19.08.2014) observed Earth Overshoot Day - or the day in the year when humanity has consumed all natural resources provided by the earth in one year.

Humanity's exhaustion of its annual ecological budget has been moving progressively earlier every year. For 40 years, the groups have also been publishing the Living Planet report on consumption of natural resources - the newest report is due this September.

DW spoke to WWF's Jörg-Andreas Krüger about Earth Overshoot Day and the Living Planet report.

Deutsche Welle: How did Earth Overshoot Day come about?

Jörg-Andreas Krüger: It's an idea from the environmental movement. We wanted to have an information system that shows to the public and decision-makers that there is a need for better decisions in the future.

We publish the Living Planet report every two years with a total overview of all the footprints of the countries in the world. Global overshoot day shows to the public the critical development in consumption of natural resources.

What is nature's budget?

That's the total amount we need in grazing lands, fishing grounds, building land, cropland and forest - and what we need for sequestration of carbon dioxide. It's a calculation of all consumption of natural and renewable resources.

We have to measure the global biocapacity, or the total amount the Earth can produce or give to humanity in a sustainable way. Then we see what we are using. If you compare them, that is the global footprint.

The overshoot date is moving progressively earlier. Why is this?

The fact that overshoot day is arriving earlier and earlier every year means we are using more natural and renewable resources every year.

Why has our consumption increased - who's responsible?

On the one hand, we can blame decision-makers. On the other hand, we can blame the consumers in the world. If you compare the consumption of natural resources on a global level, you will see big differences in the countries. If everyone on Earth consumed as much as a German, for example, we would need 2.6 planets. If you compare that to the United States, we would need 4 planets.

Then you have countries - many of them in Africa or Asia - where people are living below the biocapacity. That means industrialized nations are consuming the biocapacity of other countries, and so they are exporting their global footprint. A country like China is just reaching biocapacity. But they have an increasing footprint, and that is a big problem for the future.

What can we expect to hear from Living Planet report for 2014, which WWF will release next month?

We will see the global footprint increasing again. The footprint in the wealthy nations has not been increasing over the past 40 years. We're now seeing an increase of the footprint in the middle-income nations - so in former developing countries and BRIC countries. That's dangerous for the Earth and a challenge for political decision-makers because there are many, many people there.

Jörg-Andreas Krüger WWF Archiv 2012
Image: Eric Neuling/WWF

What are the environmental impacts of this overconsumption?

We have an enormous loss of biodiversity - we've lost more than 30 percent of the populations over the last 40 years. We're seeing forests shrinking. There are a lot of regions with enormous water problems, including the supply of freshwater. And climate change is having an enormous impact on agriculture and soil and ecosystems overall.

What needs to happen to get us out 'of the red'?

We need more efficient production, we can't waste natural resources like we have in the past. We have to redirect financial flows into sustainable investments. We need better governance structures, with governments considering responsible decisions, including consideration of what decisions will cost for the planet. And we need wiser consumption by consumers.

What can we as individuals do?

You can use renewable energy, and buy certified sustainable products. We have to consume wisely - buy only what you need.

Jörg-Andreas Krüger is a biodiversity policy expert with the WWF.