Did you know that, if all the inhabitants of the Earth consumed like the inhabitants of Australia, we would need 5 planets to cover our needs? This figure is reduced to 4 planets if we consume like the inhabitants of the United States, and 3 planets if our consumption were like that of the Swiss. These alarming figures have led to the need for sustainable consumption indicators and strategies so that, from national and regional perspectives, we can have an ecological footprint that does not exceed the biocapacity of the different territories. In this way, we would achieve that the ecological balances at different scales were positive or, at least, balanced.
If you want to go deeper into these concepts related to sustainability, in this AgroCorrn article you will find detailed information about what biocapacity is , as well as more examples of overconsumption in many countries around the world.
What is biocapacity
The Biocapacity, or biological capacity , is the term used to define the availability of biologically productive area within a given territory. For its calculation, different categories of productive areas are valued, such as those dedicated to crops, pastures and forests, as well as those areas of productive marine ecosystems and areas that have been degraded by anthropic activities.
The way to express biocapacity can be either in absolute terms of hectares (ha) or per capita, that is, considering hectares per inhabitant (ha / cap). Currently, more and more sustainability studies and analyzes use biocapacity as the main indicator of the sustainability of a study region. For this, it is necessary to compare the biocapacity with the ecological footprint of said region, to know if it has been exceeded, thus producing a situation of ecological deficit or physical unsustainability.
In the next section we will delve more deeply into this comparison between biocapacity and ecological footprint, with the aim of learning to differentiate both concepts and knowing how to relate them to sustainability.
Biocapacity and ecological footprint
We have already defined the term biocapacity in the previous section, now let’s talk about the definition of the ecological footprint in order to distinguish between the two concepts easily. It is a biophysical indicator of sustainabilityin which different impacts of human communities on their environment are considered. This indicator expresses, on the one hand, the total production area in an ecological way to cover the needs of the resources consumed by an average inhabitant of a certain society, as well as the area that is needed to absorb the waste generated after said consumption, regardless of the location of the surface. On the other hand, the ecological footprint is capable of tracking the level of sustainability of a human community over time and comparing it with the sustainability of some and other populations.
In this way, if we compare values of the ecological footprint and biocapacity (both in absolute values and per inhabitant), we will be able to know the level of ecological deficit that characterizes the specific territory that is being analyzed, both at national, regional and local scales. Thus, if the value of the ecological footprint is greater than that of the biocapacity, the territory presents an ecological deficit ; while if the biocapacity is equal to or greater than the ecological footprint, the territory would have an ecological surplus .
The comparison between both indicators and the resulting ecological balance, allows us to understand if a country or region consumes to a greater or lesser extent its ecological credit, that is, the renewable resources it has available. Thus, if we extrapolate these calculations to an international sustainability perspective, the ultimate goal of all countries would be to have an ecological footprint per inhabitant that is lower than the per capita biocapacity available on a planetary scale.
In this last section we will see some examples of the value of biocapacity per capita (hectares / inhabitants) of different countries in the world, to analyze in an illustrative way, the consumption that different countries make of their available natural resources within their total surfaces.
It highlights the idea of how these per capita biocapacity values have been directly reduced by the increase in population, which causes more and more inhabitants to divide the existing natural resources in a limited area of land.
Considering that the value of the global biocapacity of the planet is about 1.8 hectares per capita, let’s look at some specific values of biocapacity (ha / inhab) of different countries on the five continents:
Biocapacity by country
- Canada 14.5
- Brazil 9.9
- United Arab Emirates 9.8
- Qatar 8.0
- Russia 6.9
- United States 4.7
- Saudi Arabia 4.3
- Japan 4.1
- Germany 3.2
- Mexico 1.7
- Spain 1.7
- Italy 1.0
- China 0.8
- Afghanistan 0.7
- Philippines 0.7
- India 0.4
- Ethiopia 0.4
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