Covid-19 has helped push Earth Overshoot Day out by three weeks this year, but climate scientists warn that future progress must be achieved by design.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions that led to slowdown in economies around the world has had a direct impact on our planet. The Global Footprint Network has announced that Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity will have used nature’s resource budget for the entire year – will fall on 22 August this year.
This is three weeks later than in 2019 and the latest it has been since 2005, when it arrived on 25 August. It reflects a 9.3pc reduction in humanity’s ecological footprint from 1 January to Earth Overshoot Day compared to the same period last year.
The two driving factors behind this change were an 8.4pc reduction in the consumption of the world’s forests, and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels declining by 14.5pc.
However, the Global Footprint Network warned that the sudden drop due to movement restrictions is a “far cry” from the changes needed to achieve a more sustainable planet and that we cannot rely on humanitarian disasters to reduce our footprint.
“Humanity has been united by the common experience of the pandemic and shown how intertwined our lives are,” said Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom. “At the same time, we cannot ignore the deep unevenness of our experiences nor the social, economic and political tensions which have been exacerbated by this global disaster.
“Making regeneration central to our rebuilding and recovery efforts has the potential to address the imbalances both in human society and in our relationship with the Earth.”
Global food footprint unaffected
Estimates used by the group suggest that humanity uses 60pc more biological resources than what can be renewed, or the equivalent of if we lived on 1.6 Earths. This year’s data was separated into three segments.
This included emissions data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) between January and March 2020; IEA data from the height of restrictions between March and April; and estimates from June to Earth Overshoot Day 2020.
The Global Footprint Network said that analysis of the global food system showed the severe disruptions of food services has led to increased malnutrition and food waste. However, it said the food footprint was unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, Ireland was among a large group of nations whose overshoot day arrived earlier than the 29 July global average. Along with Slovenia, Ireland’s Earth Overshoot Day was marked on 27 April in 2019. However, this was still months behind Qatar, which reached its overshoot day on 11 February.