Brussels, Belgium At the European Parliament today, President Barroso, WWF, and Global Footprint Network launched EUROPE 2005: The Ecological Footprint, a report showing that Europe uses 20 percent of the biospheres services to serve seven percent of the worlds population a resource demand that has risen nearly 70 percent since 1961.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, has endorsed the report, which will be used to inform a larger EU effort to craft a sustainable development strategy for the region. In the report's introduction, Barroso acknowledges the need to understand planetary limits. He writes, "sustainable developmentrequires amongst other things safeguarding the Earth's capacity to support life in all its diversity and respecting the limits of the planet's natural resources.
The report marks the first time Europe has ever tracked and studied its ecological spending in relation to planetary limits, only to find that its blind use of ecosystem services such as food, fibre, energy, and land has created an ecological deficit for the entire region. The result: Europes consumption levels can continue to grow only by importing more natural resources, such as wood, metals or fish, from other countries and dumping more of its CO2 waste into the global atmosphere.
According to the report, the Ecological Footprint of all EU countries is above the worlds sustainable average. EU countries with the highest demand per person on the biosphere are Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, and France, using between three and four times the worldwide average biological capacity available per person. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland are on the other edge, but are still using about twice the average amount of resources available per person.
While it is still cheap to run an ecological deficit, if humanitys current levels of resource consumption continue, such a deficit will become an increasing liability for countries, says Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network and lead-author of the report, This deficit spending will jeopardize Europes long-term prosperity if it is not seriously addressed.
For these reasons, the report also offers ways in which Europe can move towards ecological sustainability. For example, because energy consumption is a major part of the EUs Ecological Footprint, moving from a fossil fuel economy to renewable energy economy would be a key way of reducing the EUs environmental deficit. Additionally, the right kind of investments can encourage innovations for sustainability in the areas of food, health, nature management, mobility, and shelter. Europe can build transport and city infrastructure that facilitates rather than thwarts the transition to a sustainable future.
The longer Europe procrastinates on balancing its environmental deficit, the more expensive the investment required and the greater the risk that critical ecosystems will be eroded beyond the point at which they can easily recover, explains Tony Long, Director of WWF European Policy Office. Measurement tools like the Ecological Footprint help determine whether certain actions will move a region closer to its sustainability goals. The report is being seen as a first step in salvaging Europes long-term ecological and economic prosperity.