Nature and Biodiversity

Europeans are living beyond Earth’s means

A photo taken by Expedition 46 flight engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) aboard the International Space Station shows Italy, the Alps, and the Mediterranean on January, 25, 2016.    REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake/Handout   ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Luxembourg is the first country to reach Earth Overshoot Day each year. Image: REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Consumption

If everyone consumed at the same rate as the average European, we would need a planet three times the size of Earth.

EU residents are using the world’s resources faster than it can replenish them. Human society would use earth’s annual biocapacity – the amount of resources it can renew in the space of a year – by 10 May if everyone lived in the same way as Europeans, according to wildlife charity WWF and sustainability organization Global Footprint Network.

Although by headcount Europeans make up a small part of the global population, they account for a fifth of humanity’s footprint – that is the amount of carbon produced, food and products consumed and built-up space occupied.

Ecological footprint per country per capita - 2016
Image: WWF

There is a big disparity in the speed at which countries reach the point of overshooting the world’s resources. As the chart below shows, Luxembourg reaches this point just over a month into the year, with low fuel taxes creating a high carbon footprint. Romania is the last EU country to use up available resources halfway through the year – still earlier than the global average.

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Europeans on average have decreased their ecological footprint in the past 20 years, but much of this has been down to economic contraction rather than a concerted effort to reduce their impact.

Overshoot days across the EU and the world
Image: WWF

The global picture

Earth Overshoot Day – the point at which humans use more than the world’s resources – takes place earlier and earlier each year. This year it will fall in July. Up until the 1970s, the planet was able to produce more than we consumed on an annual basis: now we are using up resources at a rate of 1.7 Earths a year.

EU 28 overshoot day 1961-2016
Image: WWF


China, the US, India, Russia and Brazil have the largest footprints globally. As a whole, the EU’s biocapacity deficit is on par with China’s. Although China’s total footprint is double the US’s and the EU’s, they both have a much higher consumption per person.

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Nature and BiodiversityGeographies in Depth
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