What is an ecological footprint?

Close up of foot of chimpanzee / Close up of underside / sole of human foot (Homo sapiens) / Close ... / ©: naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF
Close up of foot of chimpanzee / Close up of underside / sole of human foot (Homo sapiens) / Close up foot of Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)
© naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF
Our Ecological Footprint shows that 1.5 Earths would be required to meet the demands humanity makes on nature each year. Between 1970 and 2010, the population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half.
A measure of the impact humans have on the environment is called an ecological footprint. A country’s ecological footprint is the sum of all the cropland, grazing land, forest and fishing grounds required to produce the food, fibre and timber it consumes, to absorb the wastes emitted when it uses energy and to provide space for infrastructure.

WWF’s found WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014 found that in 2010, the global ecological footprint was 18.1 billion global hectares (gha) or 2.6 gha per capita. Earth’s total biocapacity was 12 billion gha, or 1.7 gha per capita.

This means that the Earth’s people needed 18 billion hectares of productive land in order to provide each and every person with the resources they required to support their lifestyle and to absorb the wastes they produced. 

The bad news is that there were only 12 billion global hectares available.

This means that in 2010 people used about 50% more natural resources than the planet could regenerate.

The message is clear and urgent. We need to consume less if we are to live within the regenerative capacity of the Earth.

What is Australia’s ecological footprint?

We have been exceeding the Earth’s ability to support our lifestyle. Habitats are being destroyed; our soils and waterways are being degraded. The balance must be restored.

In Australia, we’re consuming more than three times our fair share of the planet’s natural resources. If we continue these consumption patterns, we will face an ecological overshoot that will have far-reaching future consequences for people and nature.

Australians have one of the largest environmental footprints per capita in the world, requiring 6.25 global hectares per person.

If the rest of the world lived like we do in Australia, we’d need the regenerative capacity of 3.6 Earths to sustain our demands on nature.

Although advances in technology have helped people to produce things more efficiently, the benefits have been over-shadowed by ever-growing levels of consumption. Technological advances have raised the planet’s total biocapacity from 9.9 to 12 billion gha between 1961 and 2010. However, during that period the human population has risen from 3.1 billion to nearly 7 billion people, reducing the available biocapacity.

Carbon has been the dominant component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint for more than half a century. In 1961, carbon was 36 per cent of our total Footprint but by 2010 it comprised 53 per cent.

Click here for information about WWF’s Footprint Missions and Goals.