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Earth Overshoot Day – how have we already used up our resources for the year? #MoveTheDate

Today is Earth Overshoot Day – we have now used up all the Earth’s ecological resources & services available for the year if we were to live within the limits of a sustainable society. This year is the earliest date it has occurred – the biggest contributing factors are increase in carbon emissions (and other waste) and decrease in forest biocapacity.

If everyone lived like UK residents then we would need 2.6 planets to sustain ourselves. All of the changes that Connect, and other organisations, are making will help reduce our exploitation of the planet, and every individual behaviour change helps too!

Earth overshoot day is also a really interesting time to think about Climate Justice. An argument that you’ll often hear people in countries such as the UK say is ‘It won’t make a difference what I do because there are millions of people in China/India/Indonesia who cancel out our efforts’, or you might have heard someone say ‘did you know that China are still building coal-power stations?!’.

There are a number of considerations that you have to take into account when thinking about carbon emissions data – climate justice is linked to being anti-racist, and linked to inter-sectional feminism and social justice (all included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals which Connect supports).

MEDCs/Minority World* countries such as the UK have been emitting for far longer than countries like China and India (LEDCs/Majority World*). If you look at the graph showing emissions over time, the UK and USA have emitted double that of China, India and Indonesia put together (almost half the world’s population at 3.1 billion, compared to just 400 million in the UK & USA). Therefore, in order to a achieve a just transition it is expected that the biggest polluters over time will support countries that have had less time to develop industry and those who will be most affected by climate change by contributing more financially, and by transitioning faster.

The average person in an MEDC has a carbon footprint much bigger than a person from an LEDC. Look at the graphic showing Country Overshoot Days which shows how quickly each country uses all its available resources each year. The UK bypassed this in just over 4 months! You’ll notice that regardless of population size there is a split between MEDCs who all reach overshoot day earlier in the year, and LEDCs which overshoot later in the year.

In fact, Indonesia with the 4th largest population almost doesn’t overshoot! This goes to show that the average carbon footprint of a person in these countries is already extremely low in comparison – even several billion extra people in the low income countries would leave global emissions virtually unchanged. The bigger the average carbon footprint the more reductions can be made without affecting overall quality of life – it isn’t fair to expect someone in India to reduce their carbon footprint at the same rate as someone in the UK because their emissions are already so low that reductions are much harder to achieve.

Even understanding this, you might look at the graph and think, China is emitting more than ever now, it doesn’t matter if they emitted less historically, or emit less per person, they still need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. It is true that China is emitting a huge amount now, and that as a society they need to transition at a quicker rate than they are, however we also have to consider whether countries like China are actually responsible for all their emissions.

Have a look at the third graphic, which shows emissions in trade – so the emissions caused by things that you import and export. Countries in blue are net exporters of emissions: China actually has -14% value, meaning that 14% of it’s emissions are caused by products being bought by other countries. The UK in comparison has a +42% value, meaning our footprint increases by 42% when we include the products that we import. You can see the clear East-West split again on this map. This means that even though LEDCs are emitting more than before, MEDCs are responsible for a large proportion of those increased emissions as they are associated with consumption patterns.

Now if we take these considerations we can also apply them within our own society: Climate Justice is a domestic issue too. It’s known that those who have contributed least to climate change are also those who are most likely to suffer the worst impacts even within the UK. For example, those who are disadvantaged are more likely to live in flood risk areas, more likely to develop the health problems associated by climate change and less likely to be able to afford to adapt to changes.

Those who will suffer the most severe impacts are also more likely to be from ethnic minorities. So the same considerations also apply to how we address sustainability issues at Connect. Our residents are likely to have some of the lowest individual carbon footprints already, and are less likely to be able to make expensive lifestyle changes. This thinking was included in the way we developed our sustainability strategy and will continue to inform the way we work going forward.

 

MEDC = More Economically Developed Country
LEDC = Less Economically Developed Country

Majority World = Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific
Minority World = Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

 

Sources:
ourworldindata.org/consumption-based-co2
ourworldindata.org/co2-by-income-region
www.overshootday.org/newsroom/infographics

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