Earth Overshoot Day 2020: Get out of the climate debt trap!

August 10, 2020

This year´s international Earth Overshoot Day is on 22 August*. The date is a symbol for how far beyond our means we live with the available natural resources. The largest part of this footprint is due to CO2 emissions. Those who reduce their consumption of resources thus also reduce CO2 emissions. And also, those who offset the remaining emissions and thereby support carbon offset projects also contribute to the preservation of natural resources. A win-win situation for climate protection.

 

The date of the Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by the Global Footprint Network. It shows when the earth's annually available natural resources are exhausted. For the year 2020, all available global resources and emissions have already been used up and emitted by 22 August. This means that everything that happens for the rest of the year after this date will be at the expense of future generations – the climate debt trap.

The basis for the date´s calculation is the total of all resources and natural raw materials that are available in the Earth's ecosystem within a year, the so-called biocapacity. This involves the collection and evaluation of around 15,000 data points per country and year. In addition to mineral resources, arable land, forest areas, pasture land or fishing grounds, it also takes into account nature's ability to bind and process CO2. This is contrasted with what we actually consume in resources or emit in CO2, the ecological footprint. 

The date of 22 August - i.e. around the middle of the year - shows that the entire world population would need almost two Earths to meet its average annual hunger for natural resources. It is primarily the industrialised countries that live beyond their means here, while non-industrialised countries remain far below what is mathematically available to them in terms of resource consumption.

The ecological footprint and the climate balance

Every use and consumption of natural resources causes the release of CO2 emissions. The reverse is also true: if we emit CO2 into the atmosphere, we need resources such as forests or water bodies to absorb and compensate for the CO2. According to overshootday.org, CO2 emissions account for about 60 percent of the current ecological footprint – this is so large that it cannot be fully absorbed by natural ecosystems. The greenhouse effect and climate change continue to advance.

Only those who know their emission drivers can develop effective measures to reduce both emissions and the consumption of resources. The starting point for this is a comprehensive carbon footprint, which determines the carbon footprint of a company or its products and services. To calculate this, we at ClimatePartner are guided by international standards such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The resulting report - also known as the Carbon Footprint Report - provides actionable information on which structures in the company or which process steps of a product cause how many emissions. It is the basis for all reduction measures and climate protection strategies based on it.

Reduce, offset and protect resources

It is often extremely complex to redesign production processes in such a way that the associated consumption of resources is reduced and emissions are cut. Many efficiency efforts can therefore only be made in the medium to long term. At the same time, however, the urgency of ecological change in our economic system is so great that companies should consider the immediately effective offsetting of unavoidable CO2 emissions as an important element of their corporate strategy. In this way, they gain time for the necessary change on the one hand and yet already take responsibility for climate protection.

The fact that the associated support for carbon offset projects also helps to protect natural resources on a large scale is a welcome additional effect. Many carbon offset technologies help to preserve existing ecosystems such as forests, water bodies or moors and even increase such areas - for example through reforestation or renaturation. This is an important contribution that pays into the account of available resources. A calculation by Global Footprint Network shows how important this effect is: The reforestation of 350 million hectares of forest alone could postpone Earth Overshoot Day by 8 days.

The effective triad of calculation, reduction and offsetting of greenhouse gases can help to shift the Earth Overshoot Day back towards the end of the year. The motto must therefore be: Get in on climate protection, get out of the climate debt trap.

 

(*) The 22 August calculated for 2020 is later than EOD dates of previous years. This is attributed to the 9.3% improvement in the ecological footprint due to the corona-induced standstill or slowdown in global economic activity.