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Coronavirus Pandemic Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks, But It's Not Sustainable
By Stuart Braun
Back in 1970, the earth's biocapacity was more than enough to meet annual human demand for resources. But in the half century since, we have steadily outgrown our single planet. Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us.
In 2019, we had already spent our resource budget for the year by July 31, the earliest Earth Overshoot Day ever recorded by the Global Footprint Network, which has been calculating global and national ecological impacts for near three decades. In that time, humanity has overshot its biocapacity — defined as an "ecosystems' capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans" — by a few more days each year.
But due to the global coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has bucked the trend. This year, Earth Overshoot Day has moved back by more than three weeks to August 22.
Projections point to almost 15% reductions in CO2 emissions (around 60% of the total footprint) in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related slowdown in fossil fuel use across the transport, power, industry, aviation and residential sectors. The global Earth Overshoot calculation, which uses data from the likes of the International Energy Agency, also includes forest production, which dipped nearly 9%, and our food footprint, which was steady.
One Planet Misery or Prosperity?
According to Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, this year's contraction is welcomed. But he says the fact that it is accidental means it is not sustainable.
"The tragedy of this year is that the reduction of carbon emissions is not based on a better infrastructure such as better electricity grids or more compact cities," he told DW. "We need to move the date by design, not by disaster."
To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celcius, the current decline in the emissions curve would have to continue at the same rate for the next decade, Wackernagel points out. At present, however, this is being achieved through economic and social suffering.
"Not doing anything, being stuck at home. That's not the kind of transformation we need. It's not lasting," Wackernagel said.
The goal must be to "systemically adjust to the physical budget we have available," added the Swiss-born Global Footprint Network founder and 2018 World Sustainability Award winner. "Do you want one planet misery or one planet prosperity?"
Wackernagel argues that the coronavirus is itself a reflection of ecological stress. "These pressures that we see like pandemics, like famine, like climate change, like biodiversity loss, they're all manifestations of an ecological imbalance," he said.
Lowering Emissions for the Benefit of All
A key side effect of disaster-driven emission reductions is the fact that "the pain is going to be unevenly distributed," according Wackernagel. Marginalised groups, especially people of color, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic's "huge economic impacts," said Sarah George, a senior reporter with Edie, a UK media company that promotes sustainable business practices.
Edie conducted its first Earth Overshoot webinar in 2019, with the aim of educating organizations to reduce their resource footprint through business models that are sustainable for everyone in the long-term.
George says this year's webinar on August 22 will also address the misnomer spread by some climate skeptics that a green, low-consumption future is only possible under the deprivations of a lockdown.
"They have used the situation to say that lockdown is 'what green campaigners want,' and that we cannot enjoy things like international travel, economic growth, etc. in a green future," George told DW.
But post-lockdown, George says the goal is to create a one planet model through which businesses can couple "better economic and social outcomes" with "lower emissions and air pollution."
Ecological Debt Balloons in Developing Nations
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated both globally and among individual countries, and reveals how developed nations are eating up the earth's biocapacity at a much faster rate.
In the U.S., where overshoot day falls on March 14 this year, citizens will require around five planets to maintain their outsized ecological footprint. Germany overshoots 50 days later on May 3, but still requires two planets.
"In Sweden we live as if we had about 4 planets according to WWF and Global Footprint Network, and roughly the same goes for the entire Nordic region," wrote climate activist Greta Thunberg last October when rejecting a Nordic Council environment award on the grounds that people in power should instead "listen to the current, best available science."
While Scandinavia is known for world-leading investment in renewable energy, and in rapid transport electrification in the case of Norway, Global Footprint Network data shows that individual consumption remains highly unsustainable. By contrast socialist outpost Cuba, which overshoots on December 1, is one of the few nations that's almost living within its means.
In Australia, a country regarded as a biocapacity giant due to its relatively small population and vast natural resources, is now running a biocapacity deficit for the first time in its history following the devastating fires of 2019-2020. The world's driest continent exhausted its ecological capacity on March 30 this year.
A fire-ravaged Australia has, according to a Global Footprint Network report, shown "how fragile biocapacity can be."
"With climate change and resource overuse, we place greater demand on ecosystems that are essential for the survival of not only humanity but wildlife species as well," wrote the authors. "Growing demand met by less robust biocapacity becomes a dangerous combination."
But any attempt to move the date towards one planet compatibility will require a systematic reduction of our ecological footprint in a way that also conforms with the strictures of climate science.
For Mathis Wackernagel, this must start with the individual, a principle that is also fundamental to fighting the coronavirus. "If you protect yourself, you protect everyone," he says.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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