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World Living Beyond Its Environmental Means - WWF

Reuters logoThu October 21, 2004 08:44 AM ET
By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - The world is consuming some 20 percent more natural resources a year than the planet can produce, conservationist group WWF warned on Thursday.

Urging governments to move rapidly to restore the ecological balance, the Swiss-based group said rich countries, particularly in North America, werelargely to blame for the situation.

"We are running up an ecological debt which we will not be able to pay off," Dr Claude Martin, director-general of WWF International, told a news conference.

In its 'Living Planet Report 2004,' the fifth in a series, the WWF said that between 1970 and 2000, populations of marine and terrestrial species fell 30 percent. That of freshwater species declined 50 percent.

"This is a direct consequence of increasing human demand for food, fiber, energy and water," it said.

What WWF calls the "ecological footprint" -- the amount of productive landneeded on average worldwide to sustain one person -- currently stood at 22 hectares (5.43 acres).

But the earth had only 1.8 hectares (4.45 acres) per head -- based on the planet's estimated 11.3 billion hectares (27.9 billion acres) of productive land and sea space divided between its 6.1 billion people.

"...humans consume 20 percent more natural resources than the earth can produce," WWF said.

This contrasted with the position in 1960, the year WWF was launched, whenthe world used only 50 percent of what the earth could generate.

Miss Target

On present trends, countries would miss a target of reducing significantlybiodiversity loss by 2010, agreed at the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002, Jonathan Loh, one of the report's authors, told journalists.

The fastest growing component of the footprint was energy use, which had risen by 700 percent between 1961 and 2001.

Overall, resource use as measured by the footprint rose eight percent in per capita terms among the planet's richer one billion inhabitants in the years 1991-2001, but fell by the same percentage among the rest of the world, WWF said.

North Americans were consuming resources at a particularly fast rate, withan ecological footprint that was twice as big as that of Europeans and seven times that of the average Asian or African, WWF said.

"If we all reached the level of per capita footprint of the average North America, it is clearly an unsustainable situation. The planet clearly would not be able to sustain that level of consumption for very long," Loh said.

Bringing the world back into balance involved action on a number of fronts, including slowing world population growth.

But technology could play a vital role, particularly through the use and development of more environment friendly energy sources, Loh said.

"If you look at that 20 percent excess, a very large part of our footprintis coming from the consumption of fossil fuels. And that is the biggest problem to target," he said.

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