On Saturday, humanity will have consumed more natural resources than the Earth can renew in 12 months: the symbolic “day of overtaking” recedes for once this year, under the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not not good news warn its promoters.
The “Overshoot Day” according to its English name, calculated since 2003 by the American NGO Global Footprint Network, aims to illustrate the ever-faster consumption of an expanding human population on a limited planet. To put it in a colorful way, it would take 1.6 Earths this year to meet the needs of the world’s population in a sustainable way.
The date is calculated by crossing the ecological footprint of human activities (land and sea surfaces necessary to produce the resources consumed and to absorb the population’s waste) and the “biocapacity” of the Earth (the capacity of ecosystems to regenerate and absorb waste produced by humans, in particular CO2 sequestration).
The “overrun” occurs when human pressure exceeds the regeneration capacities of natural ecosystems and according to the NGO has continued to widen for 50 years: December 29 in 1970, November 4 in 1980, October 11 in 1990, September 23 in 2000, August 7 in 2010.
Last year it fell on July 29. 2020 therefore marks a rare respite, but attributable to the consequences of the global pandemic which has paralyzed whole swathes of human activity, pushing back the date by three weeks, and not to a systemic change.
“There is nothing to celebrate because it comes with suffering, it is not done on purpose, but by a catastrophe”, underlined Thursday Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network during an event online. And to warn: “It’s like for money: you can spend more than what you earn, but not forever”.
The behaviors that the “day of overtaking” calls into question and their consequences are in fact widely documented by scientists, from climate change to the catastrophic disappearance of species and ecosystems.
And the latest reports from UN experts clearly identify the directions to follow: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, exit from fossil fuels, drastic change in the agrifood production model …
Because in order to meet the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement and maintain the overall rise in temperature “clearly below 2 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels, and if possible at 1.5 ° C, gas emissions greenhouse effect are expected to decrease by 7.6% annually, ”according to the UN.
However, according to a study published in early August by the journal Nature Climate Change, the unprecedented drop in greenhouse gas emissions during lockdowns due to COVID (which could reach 8% according to this study, more than 10% according to Global Footprint) will do ‘nothing’ to slow global warming without systemic change in energy and food.
Global Footprint Network insists on this point, in particular via the #movethedate campaign (to push back the date), ensuring that reducing by 50% the CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels would make it possible to postpone the exceedance by more than 90 days, or halve the consumption of animal protein for 15 days.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF, partner of the event since 2007, wants to hope that after the Covid, and the reflections it has triggered on models of society, humans will be able to “learn from what this pandemic has highlighted: the unsustainable, wasteful and destructive relationship we have with nature, the planet ”.