Humanity is faced with many challenges that threaten natural resource availability, stable climate systems, and the conservation of biodiversity. To understand and manage these challenges, we require information about global pressures on nature demanded by humans and their economies.
Humans depend on the use of resources from nature as a source of materials and energy, as a means of absorbing wastes, and for places to live and build infrastructure. This dependence can be sustained if humans use renewable natural resources at a rate that can be regenerated and emit pollution at a rate that can be absorbed by the environment. These conditions necessitate an accounting of the planet’s regenerative capacity, defined as Biocapacity, and human demand on that regenerative capacity, defined as Ecological Footprint.
Measuring Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity
The Ecological Footprint measures the total area of the planet required to provide the resources demanded by humans, including food and fibres, forest products, lands for settlements and infrastructure, and the absorption of anthropogenic carbon emissions.
Biocapacity measures the biologically productive area of lands and waters that are available to sustain the components of the Ecological Footprint. Biocapacity components include cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land.
Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity are each quantified in a standardized unit known as a Global Hectare (gha), which allows them to be summed and compared to an Ecological Footprint calculated anywhere on the planet. Comparing Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity can inform measures of human pressures on local and global landscapes, and this comparison can also inform indicators of sustainability.
National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts
Solving the global challenge of conserving biodiversity and living within the Earth’s regenerative capacity requires accounting for this capacity and its use by humans. The National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts are a metric used to quantify the amount of the planet’s regenerative capacity required to sustain human demand on nature, calculated at national scales. The resulting accounts are a unique and comprehensive measure of the relationships between humans, economies, and ecosystems, which generates added information based on existing global economic, social, and environmental statistics. Many scholars and organizations use the data from these accounts to inform their assessment of sustainability.
The Ecological Footprint Initiative at York University is producing the National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts for over 200 countries across the globe, with data derived from 1961 to the present. The accounts are developed through the acquisition and analysis of global statistical datasets from the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Foundation, among others. The accounts are being produced for the Footprint Data Foundation to inform individuals, communities and government leaders on how to manage limited resources efficiently, reduce economic risk and improve well-being.
Province & City: An Ecological Footprint calculated at the provincial and city level is derived from national data that is scaled based on consumption behaviours. Data is gathered from various economic and environmental sources, such as household expenditure, prices for goods and services, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), multi-regional input-output analysis, and carbon emissions inventories. This process looks closely at the linkages between the footprint components and the consumption of goods and services.
Institutions & Companies: The Ecological Footprint can be adapted to the needs of companies and institutions for sustainability assessment and reporting purposes. The Ecological Footprint is a useful tool to help organizations and institutions address multilayered challenges in a single number, making sustainability campaigns more transparent to stakeholders and partners in the planning process.
Individuals & Households: An Ecological Footprint can be used to measure individual or household demands on nature. For example, the Global Footprint Network’s Footprint Calculator is an online survey that estimates an individual’s footprint as determined by their consumptive choices. The personal footprint calculator is a useful tool offering users direct and tangible feedback on the impact of their lifestyle on the planet and can encourage pro-environmental behaviour.
We are currently completing production on the 2020 Edition of the National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts for all nations on the planet. To accurately account for each nation’s demand on- and supply of- available biocapacity, we use computational hardware and software to process and analyze the most precise and complete statistical data available at the international level. Our data undergo thorough quality assurance processes, which involves data scoring the rigorous maintenance of data integrity. The production of the accounts occurs annually, beginning in May-June and is finalized the following year in April. The entire process from conception to publication takes approximately one year.