Footprint Forum 2010: Addressing the Global Resource Challenge

Global Footprint Network recently completed our second Partner Network Conference, Footprint Forum 2010, held June 7-12 in Colle di Val d'Elsa, Italy, in conjunction with the EcoDynamics Group of the University of Siena.  

Participants included decision-makers, experts and scientists from around the world. From Ann Cotton, to Peter Victor, to Bill Rees, our diverse list of guest speakers shared presentations on crucial issues such as peak oil, the importance of education, and re-tooling our economic system - all in relation to our ecological resources.  

Together, we discussed challenges and opportunities that all of us face in a world of growing resource constraints. Below are just a few of the stories that emerged from the conference. (To view speaker presentations, download the full book of abstracts and obtain other supporting material from the conference visit our Footprint Forum 2010 Web page     
Forum Opens With Examples of Nations Leading the Way
"Politicians are caught in a dilemma between political suicide and ecological suicide," Dr. Mathis Wackernagel  told the gathering of 200 scientists, economists, and government and business leaders during Footprint Forum's opening plenary session. What most policy-makers have failed to realize is that those countries that can maintain a access to biocapacity will have a large advantage in a world facing climate change and ecological limits, he said. United Nations Environment Programme representative Haroldo Mattos de Lemos put it another way: "Businesses plan for next decade. Governments plan for the next election."

But some countries are already taking action to address their ecological balance sheet, and attendees heard from two such countries: the UAE  which has very low biocapacity and yet has the highest per capita Ecological Footprint in the world, and Ecuador, which has an extremely rich biocapacity that it wants to maintain. (Download Presentations from Opening Plenary)
UAE: Large demand, Little Biocapacity
The United Arab Emirates is one of the countries with the largest deficits between "income" in the form of biocapacity and "expenses" in terms of human demand on resources, Emirates Wildlife Society Director Razan Al Mubarak told attendees. In 2007, the UAE adopted a national Ecological Footprint Initiative, Al Basama Al Beeiya, to address that gap.

In the latter 20th century, the UAE enjoyed explosive economic growth, largely due to the production of oil and gas, and that wealth has helped support some of the largest per-capita resource consumption in the world. On the other hand, the country has very low biocapacity, and must import most of its resources from abroad. When UAE leaders learned the country topped the world in per-capita Ecological Footprint, they were at first skeptical of the data, Mubarak said. But with support from local NGOs advancing the Footprint Initiative, "there became increasing understanding of and support for the data. From there, there became fantastic momentum toward, 'what are we going to do about it?"(More)    

Protecting Ecuador's Natural Wealth
With the richest biodiversity in the world per hectare, Ecuador has abundant natural capital. But in the last 50 years, it's ecological surplus has dwindled to almost zero. Its Ecological Footprint currently is almost equal to its biocapacity, the amount of resources the ecosystems within its borders are able to produce.

Dania Quirola Suarez, Advisor to the National Secretary of Planning and Development of Ecuador, told attendees of an important step Ecuador has taken to address its ecological balance sheet. The country has included the metric in its National Development Plan, setting a target to reduce the nation's Footprint to a level at or below biocapacity by 2013.

In keeping with that commitment, Ecuador has launched a plan to keep 846 million barrels of oil under the Amazon rainforest permanently in the ground, Suarez told attendees. The plan would keep 407 metric tones of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and protects one million acres of forest. It also preserves the livelihood of those belonging to the indigenous cultures from the region. "In this way, we can move from an extractive economy to sustainable development, that includes broader use of energy sources and increasing social equity," Suarez said.
(Download Quirola's Presentation)

Learn more about Ecuador's Ecological Footprint Initiative 
The town of Colle di Val d'Elsa

Mediterranean Initiative Addresses Region's Ecological Deficit
The Mediterranean region has been rocked this year by an economic crisis resulting from over-extension of financial resources. But Greece, Italy and other countries of the Mediterranean face another yawning deficit - an ecological deficit - that poses deep-seeded risks to the region's long-term success. On the opening day of Footprint Forum, Global Footprint Network announced the launch of its Mediterranean Initiative to address and potentially reverse this trend. (more)
The End of the Cheap Oil Era
There is no cheap-oil future for us, and if humanity doesn't make the transition to a sustainable energy source, Mother Nature will.  Robert Rapier, Chief Technology Officer of Merica International, issued this warning during an opening presentation at Footprint Forum aimed at providing a briefing in some of the ways we are hitting ecological limits.

According to Rapier, we are reaching the point at which rising human demand for oil is outpacing our ability to discover new sources of oil. As populations grows and large segments of humanity seek to improve their standard of living, supply will simply not be able to keep up with demand, driving the price of oil up and availability down.

According to Rapier, peak oil-when oil production rates begin an irreversible decline - will have a direct effect on global warming. "When there's a decline in oil production, the first thing we do is turn to coal plants and tar sands," he said. "We will demand that because we have built a society on cheap oil. But eventually fossil fuels will run out." That would address the problem of climate change, he said, but most likely not in the way people would like to see it solved. (More)