The Ecological Footprint and Biodiversity

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The threats facing the rich array of plant and animal life on the planet seem greater than at any time in modern history. Problems such as climate change, water shortages, overharvesting and habitat disruption—symptoms of human pressure on the planet’s finite resources—are driving down wildlife populations worldwide.

In 2002, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the leaders of the world’s governments committed to significantly halting the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. They adopted a suite of indicators, brought together as the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP), to provide information on biodiversity trends and assess progress toward their target. Global Footprint Network is a BIP Key Indicator Partner, and the Ecological Footprint has been officially adopted by the CBD to be included among its biodiversity indicators.

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(See the BIP’s Web site (www.twentyten.net) for leading information on trends in global biodiversity.)

What can the Footprint tell us about biodiversity?

While not a direct measure of species populations, the Ecological Footprint provides an indicator of the pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity by measuring the competing level of ecological demand that humans place upon the biosphere.

Global Ecological Footprint data show that humanity is using resources and producing CO2 emissions at a rate 44 percent greater than what nature can regenerate and reabsorb. This gap, known as ecological overshoot, results in the depletion of the natural capital that all species (including our own) depend on for their livelihood. It also results in the accumulation of carbon dioxide that leads to climate change, with profound implications for ecosystems and the species they support as well as for our societies well being and economic stability.

Humanity’s Ecological Footprint has grown 80 percent over the last four decades. The greater the gap between human demand and nature’s regenerative capacity, the more pressure there will be on the resources other species need to survive, and the more perilously biodiversity will be under threat. (Click here for a more technical explanation of how Footprint methodology relates to biodiversity).

Looking at the various consumption sectors that go into the Ecological Footprint can provide us with a glimpse of the human activities that are drivers of biodiversity loss. (Click here for a chart illustrating how various consumption sectors contribute to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, climate change and other key biodiversity threats.)

Meeting the Biodiversity Challenge

A recent Science journal report to which Global Footprint Network was a contributor provided a stark assessment that the world’s governments had not met the target set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, and had instead presided over enormous declines.

In October 2010, the parties to the CBD met in Nagoya, Japan to decide whether to adopt a new biodiversity target and new indicators for the post-2010 era. At the conference, the BIP presented a list of strategic goals, including means, milestones and indicators, for achieving the goals set forth in the CBD. Click here to download the full list of BIP recommendations.

Ultimately halting species loss and enabling biodiversity to thrive will require bringing human demand for ecological services into balance with what nature can renewably supply.

By advancing decision-making that takes resource limits into account, Global Footprint Network is working to promote a world where the reality of resource constraints is central to the national and international policy debate, and where decision-makers understand the risks that resource limitation and declining biodiversity pose to our societies’ well-being and economic stability.


• Read “Stomping on Biodiversity: Humanity’s Ecological Footprint,” published in the Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book.
Read the Science article, “Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines” Science 328, 1164 (2010) DOI: 10.1126/science.1187512.
• Download the report 2010 and Beyond: Rising to the Biodiversity Challenge, published by Global Footprint Network and WWF.
• Download the BIP’s post-2010 strategic goals for halting biodiversity declines.