This year, the day when the overexploitation of natural resources exceeded the resource availability of 2020 came 3 weeks later: was this due to the lockdown and the resulting reduction in our global ecological footprint?
Today, 22 August 2020, our impact on the planet weighs more. Indeed, today marks the day when we have officially consumed all the biological resources that the world's ecosystems have renewed over the course of the entire year. It is called Earth Overshoot Day, sponsored and calculated by the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to help the economy operate within the ecological limits of the Earth.
Although the Overshoot 2020 date still falls early (there are still more than four months to go until the end of the year!), there is a positive change compared to recent years' trends. Overshoot Day arrives three weeks later than that of 2019. Does the credit go to the Covid-19 pandemic? The Global Footprint Network has calculated a 9.3% decrease in humanity's ecological footprint compared to the previous year. This seems to be the consequence of the pandemic containment measures adopted all over the world in response to the health emergency. The reduction of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and the decrease in wood harvesting are the two main factors underlying the historical reversal of this trend.
The ecological footprint is an indicator used to evaluate the human consumption of natural resources in comparison with the ability that the planet has to regenerate them. It is the most comprehensive indicator available for calculating biological resources, as well as analyzing several factors and variables: food, timber, fiber, carbon sequestration, and infrastructure surfaces. We consume natural resources and accumulate waste, mainly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: currently, carbon emissions from fossil fuels represent 60% of humanity's ecological footprint.
To calculate the impact of the pandemic on the ecological footprint, three time-periods were considered: January-March, April-May - i.e. the period when containment measures around the world were most severe - and finally the period from June to date. The result was an overall decrease in the release of carbon emissions of 14.5%. The consumption of forest products also suffered an 8.4% decrease in the cut. In fact, timber harvesting is decided based on demand forecasts and, although construction continued during the pandemic, the forestry industry predicted a decline in demand in the near future, thus opting for a rapid reduction in timber harvesting.
The temporary suspension of some food services such as company canteens, school canteens, and restaurants and the impossibility for migrant agricultural workers to cross borders have compromised the world food system in many ways, increasing food waste and malnutrition. Nonetheless, the overall food footprint appears not to have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the exit from the health crisis still seems a distant horizon, we are increasingly turning our attention to the reconstruction of the economy and our societies. And if we want development in harmony with the "ecological budget" we can look at the collective experience of the global pandemic, drawing an important lesson: the actions with which we protect ourselves, our homes, and our communities also protect others. The consequences of decisions taken at all levels affect many more aspects of life, society, our health, and the economy in the long run than those taken for immediate effect.
Efforts worldwide to respond to the new coronavirus have shown how rapid changes in the patterns of consumption and exploitation of natural resources can affect our weight on the planet. But true sustainability, the one that would allow everyone to thrive on Earth, can only be achieved through a real change in culture and perspectives and through forward-looking political-administrative planning, and not only as a response to a global emergency.
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