This last Thursday humanity had consumed the planet’s available natural resources for the entire year: the “day of transcendence” has returned to 2019 levels, after a brief period of normality in 2020 due to the health crisis, warns the US NGO Global Footprint Network. Earth’s Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In 2021, it falls on July 29.
“More than five months before the end of the year, this July 29th we have exhausted the planet’s biological resources budget for 2021. If we need an appeal of climate and ecological urgency that we are faced with, Earth Transcendence Day takes care of that,” Susan Aitken, a political official in Glasgow, the city that will host the COP26 [UN climate conference] next November, said in a statement.
This indicator is intended to demonstrate that consumption is still faster than a human population expanding to a limited planet. To put it descriptively, it would take earth 1.7 times this year to meet the needs of the world’s population, in a sustainable way.
The date is calculated by combining the ecological footprint of human activities (the land and sea surfaces needed to produce usable resources and absorb the waste of the population) with the “biological capacity” of the Earth (the ability of ecosystems to reproduce and absorb the waste produced by man, in particular carbon capture).
“Excess” is produced when human pressure exceeds the regeneration capacities of natural ecosystems. It does not stop, according to the NGO, deepening for 50 years: on 29 December 1970, 4 November 1980, 11 October 1990, 23 September 2000, 7 August 2010.
In 2020, that date was moved three weeks later under the influence of restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year’s return to 2019 levels is explained by a 6.6% increase in the carbon footprint, as well as a 0.5% reduction in global forest biological capacity, which is “largely due to the peak of Amazonia deforestation,” according to the NGO.
The transport-related carbon footprint may remain below pre-pandemic levels, but that linked to energy is expected to come back clearly.
“These data clearly show that post-Covid-19 recovery plans can only succeed in the long term if they are based on regeneration and rational management of ecological resources,” Laurel Hanscom, managing director of the Global Footprint Network, said in the announcement.