Lima Talks; Oil Prices; Happy Planet Index; Christmas Footprint Global Footprint Network

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Ecological Footprint Image LightGreen Footprint Network News
Issue 38, December 18, 2014

Fueling Footprint Conversations

The Lima Accord reached at the conclusion of COP 20, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 20th meeting last week, marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions. Although non-binding, it is an encouraging development that sets the stage for more action on climate change in 2015 ahead of the Paris summit next December.

The more than 10,000 representatives from 196 nations went home with plenty of work to do to uphold their promises to spell out their voluntary commitments on emission reductions by March 2015. The sooner countries prepare for the inevitable march of time towards a low-carbon future, the better.

 “Economies that are not planning their transition to a low-carbon future are vulnerable to unpredictable events such as consumers and investors turning against carbon-intensive products, the price of renewable energy becoming more competitive than that of fossil fuel-based energy, and technology advances,” said Sebastian Winkler, VP of Programs and Outreach at Global Footprint Network, upon returning from Lima.

Global Footprint Network’s Finance for Change initiative is developing tools to evaluate the risks of stranded assets posed to nations’ economies and their sovereign debt.

“Our analysis shows that countries are unequally exposed in terms of the scale and impact of reforms required to move to low-carbon economies. The longer countries wait, the more their carbon-intensive assets will lose value in a low-carbon future,” Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel pointed out in his commentary on the landmark U.S.-China climate deal announced last month, which created momentum heading into the Lima meetings. Read Wackernagel’s full statement on the U.S.-China agreement.

What’s really behind the dramatic drop in oil prices? When and why might they go back up? Who are the winners and losers? Chris Nelder, Global Footprint Network’s policy officer, suggests a jump in U.S. oil production as a result of fracking is one major factor, but traders are now fueling the price decline. He forecasts that if prices remain at their current depressed levels for another three months or more, we should expect a slowdown in growth of U.S. oil production. “Some slowing is already indicated, as new drilling permits fell by 40 percent from October to November,” he notes. Read more of Nelder’s oil price analysis

Click the interactive map below to see the multitude of locations where our team has been working to expand knowledge about the Footprint these past couple of months.


 

Footprint in Action
Iraq – a “happier” country than … the United States?! The New Economics Foundation’s latest Happy Planet Index is out, demonstrating once again that the environmental cost of rich countries’ lifestyle fails to sustainably deliver long and happy lives. The overall index scores rank 151 countries based on life expectancy, experienced well-being and the Ecological Footprint. The resulting map is striking. Can you guess which is the happiest country of all?

Montenegro appears to be the only country in the Mediterranean basin to have improved the proportion between biocapacity balance and production footprint between 1961 and 2007, according to the UN Development Programme’s latest National Human Development Report-Montenegro. Montenegro’s footprint comes close to its biocapacity, demonstrating that it is possible to achieve a high level of human development while maintaining a low level of environmental impact. At the same time, the local economy is about three times as energy-intensive as the EU economy. Across sectors, resource efficiency is indeed the main challenge facing the country going forward. Among five scenarios put forward in the report, “moderate reduction in the use of resources” emerges as optimal. It envisions an active and ambitious natural resource management policy that would increase resource productivity by 60 percent in 2020 compared to the 2005-2012 period average, and would achieve an absolute reduction of the use of resources of 20 percent compared to the same period average.

News from the Network
We were thrilled to learn that Professor Herman Daly, widely viewed as the father of ecological economics, was named a Laureate of the 2014 Blue Planet Prize (received by Global Footprint President Mathis Wackernagel in 2012). A formal acknowledgement of his contribution to economic theory was long overdue: He was one of the first to demonstrate that an economy has an optimal physical scale in the context of the natural ecosystems that support it.

If too big, an economy starts yielding diminishing returns on investments, since the costs of operating become larger than the benefits that the system is able to generate. Consider the overuse of natural capital, for instance, where degradation of that capital is mistakenly considered “income” while, in fact, the long-term ability of that capital to keep yielding steady income is being compromised.

By calling for an economic theory that is consistent with biophysical limits, Daly essentially laid the foundation for Global Footprint Network’s work. When asked whether his ideas about living within the regenerative capacity of the planet are unrealistic, he typically answers that he’d rather be unrealistic about socio-economic rules and behaviors than about physical conditions, since the economic rules can change but physical reality cannot. We could not agree more.

The Carbon Footprint … of Christmas: Santa Claus has long been known for traveling sustainably on a reindeer-powered sleigh, snacking on milk and cookies, and delivering books, puzzles and board games with low-emissions life cycles to children around the world. Our 2014 Christmas, on the other hand, requires a lot more carbon than it did 50 years ago, according to an infographic from our partner organization Best Foot Forward (Anthesis Group). We drive around 34 km on fossil-fuel powered cars, eat meat galore and shower our loved ones with gifts of electronic gadgets. These devices have high carbon Footprints due to the large amount of energy required to produce the components and batteries, and to the power they consume when in use.

Instead of a white Christmas, how about creating a green Holiday where the gift of experiences trumps the giving of things? Check out these suggestions from treehugger.com.

From Our Blog
Lead scientist David Lin traveled to the Indian state of Odisha to provide support to Pragyan Bharati, our India director, on our new pilot project there, Sustainable Development Return on Investment. In partnership with local organizations Gram Vikas and International Development Enterprises-India, we aim to empower local villagers to have a more informed voice in shaping development in their communities. Read Lin’s account of his eye-opening trip, in which he saw first-hand how seemingly small innovations can make an impact.

Last month co-founders Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel were inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame. Susan made the trip to the International Society of Sustainability Professionals Conference in Denver, Colorado, to receive the award. She took that opportunity to pause and reflect on her journey as a sustainability pioneer. Read her candid interview.

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