Every year the international research organization Global Footprint Network develops and publishes the National Footprint Accounts (NFAs), revealing countries’ ecological resource use and resource capacity.
The 2017 Edition of the National Footprint Accounts covers nearly 150 countries from 1961 to 2013, the year for which the most recent data is available. The calculations in the National Footprint Accounts are primarily based on different United Nations data sets, the International Energy Agency and over 20 other sources.
The Global Footprint Network attaches great importance to the transparency of its methodology. Basically, the methodology puts two indicators in relation to each other: ecological footprint (human demand on nature) and biocapacity (nature’s capacity to meet that demand) – measured both at a total level of the country and per person. The Ecological Footprint measures a country’s use of cropland, forests, grazing land, and fishing grounds for providing resources and absorbing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Biocapacity measures how much biologically productive area is available to regenerate these resources and services. Results from these measurements shed light on a country’s ecological impact. A country has an ecological reserve if its footprint is smaller than its biocapacity, otherwise it is operating with an ecological deficit. Both the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity are expressed in global hectares— a measurement unit which makes data and results globally comparable.
NFAs 2017 reveal that today, most countries are running ecological deficits. The world average ecological footprint in 2013 was 2.8 global hectares per person, but only 1.71 ha are available. Europe, for example, needs 4.87 gha per person, but can only provide 3.24 gha. Compared to the previous report in 2016, not much has changed in the top 10 countries with the largest total Ecological Footprint. China (50096.54 ha) is the nation with the world’s largest total Footprint followed by the USA (27245.96), India (13605.35), the Russian Federation (8202.11) and Japan (6332.13). Other countries down the list are Brazil, Germany, Indonesia and France. The United Kingdom with a footprint half the size of Japan’s footprint rounds out the top 10 list. The other extreme make up small island countries with the lightest total Footprint. These are Montserrat (27,374 ha), Nauru (29,543), Wallis and Futuna Islands (30, 761), the Cook Islands (80,243) and the British Virgin Islands (83,525). If we look at the ecological footprint per person, Luxembourg sits atop the list with 13.09 gha/person, as in the previous year, followed by Qatar (12.57) and Australia (8.8). The lowest footprints per person are in Burundi (0.63), Haiti (0.61), and Eritrea (0.51).
Sorting countries by the amount of the natural resources they have, the NFAs reveal that countries which are large by area have the most biocapacity. In the top 5 are Brazil, China, the USA, Russia and Canada. Singapore, Bermuda, Barbados, Reunion and Nauru are countries with the least total biocapacity. The biocapacity indicatiors drastically change if we look at the data per person. Many of the resource rich countries have large populations. As a result, only Canada and Australia appear in the top 10 of the biocapacity per person list, skipping ahead of Bolivia, Gabon, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Countries like Singapore, Bermuda and Barbados are those which have the smallest biocapacity per person.
Based on the ecological footprint, the ecological overshoot can be calculated. It indicates the calendar day of each year from which the resources consumed exceed the capacity of the earth to generate them. In 2017, it was on the 2nd of August. The annual trend indicates an earlier date, but due to the methodology and new findings, there is some variability.