20 Aug 2020


COVID-19 has Caused Humanity’s Ecological Footprint to Contract by three weeks

However, true sustainability that allows all to thrive on Earth can only be achieved by design, not disaster.

Earth Overshoot Day 2020: 22 August

Even though there has been an incredible cost to human life and the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, our ecological footprint in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has still more-or-less remained where it was in 2019. Citizens in the CEE Region have again used their entire annual natural resource budget several months before December 31. We have essentially not “moved the date” in 2020. The sudden Ecological Footprint contraction is a far cry from the intentional change which is required to achieve both ecological balance and people’s well-being, two inextricable components of sustainability.

Country Overshoot days 2020
Country Overshoot days 2020 © Global Footprint Network

According to the Global Footprint Network, Earth Overshoot Day 2020 lands on 22 August, more than three weeks later than in 2019 (July 29). The date reflects the 9.3% reduction of humanity’s ecological footprint from 1st of January to Earth Overshoot Day compared to the same period last year, which is a direct consequence of the coronavirus-induced lockdowns around the world. Decreases in wood harvest and CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are the major drivers behind the historic shift in the long-term growth of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.

“This shift in the year-to-year date of Earth Overshoot Day represents the greatest ever single-year shift since the beginning of global overshoot in the early 1970s. In several instances the date was pushed back temporarily, such as in the aftermath of the post-2008 Great Recession, but the general trend remains that of a consistent upward trajectory.” – Earth Overshoot Calculation Report 2020

Humanity as a whole is currently using nature 1.6 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. This is akin to using 1.6 Earths.

Table - WWF-CEE Countries OverShoot Day 2019 vs 2020
WWF-CEE Countries OverShoot Days

Despite large variations among European countries, not a single one of them is performing at a sustainable level.

“Europe’s long-term stability, safety and prosperity can only be protected by an EU Green Deal and European Green Recovery that incorporates the Paris Agreement, UN Sustainable Development Goals, EU Water Framework Directive, EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and WWF’s criteria for a New Deal for Nature and People.” – Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe

Overshoot is possible because we are depleting our natural capital – which compromises humanity’s future resource security. The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the forms of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humanity will eventually have to operate within the means of Earth’s ecological resources, whether that balance is restored by disaster or by design. But, there are solutions.

Moving the date of Earth Overshoot Day back five days each year would allow humanity to reach one-planet compatibility before 2050. Solutions that #MoveTheDate are available and financially advantageous. The #MoveTheDate Solutions Map invites people to champion existing solutions. Users can also connect with each other on the basis of geography and focus of interest, accelerating the implementation of new projects in the real world. Significant opportunities are to be found in five key areas: cities, energy, food, population, and planet. For instance, cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning by 50% would #MoveTheDate by 93 days.

Lessons carrying us forward

This year, more than ever, Earth Overshoot Day provides an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on the future we want. Efforts to respond to COVID-19 have demonstrated that shifting ecological resource consumption trends in a short timeframe is possible. As we emerge from the public health crisis and focus on rebuilding our economies and our lives, an EU Green Recovery is far more likely to bring about the positive outcomes that decision-makers and citizens seek. Already, powerful lessons can be drawn from the collective experience of the pandemic:

  • Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet's;
  • Future pandemics will only be avoided if people learn to live in harmony with nature;
  • Governments are capable of acting swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else;
  • Humanity is one biology and is stronger when we act together;
  • Businesses and individuals alike can effectively align and collaborate in the pursuit of a shared goal when people recognise that their own lives, and that of the people they love, may be at risk;
  • The necessary actions required to protect oneself, one’s household, and one’s community also protect others; one’s decisions at all levels have consequences for all; and
  • There is no health without a healthy planet.

We have witnessed what is possible when humanity comes together to pursue a shared outcome. What shared outcome could be more important than our long-term survival on our finite planet?

Further information:

  • Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe, Tel: +43-676-8427 28 215 | Fax: +43-1-52 45 470-70, ilucius@wwfdcp.org
  • Laetitia Mailhes (English & French), Media & Outreach, Global Footprint Network, Tel: +1 (510) 839-8879 x308, laetitia.mailhes@footprintnetwork.org

About the Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint is the most comprehensive biological resource accounting metric available. It adds up all of people’s competing demands for biologically productive areas – food, timber, fibres, carbon sequestration, and accommodation of infrastructure. Currently, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel make up 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint. The Footprint Calculator enables people to calculate their own Ecological Footprint and their personal Earth Overshoot Day, draws more than 2.5 million users per year, and is now available in eight languages.

About Global Footprint Network

Global Footprint Network is an international sustainability organisation that is helping the world live within the Earth’s means and respond to climate change. Since 2003 we’ve engaged with more than 50 countries, 30 cities, and 70 global partners to deliver scientific insights that have driven high-impact policy and investment decisions. Together, we’re creating a future where all of us can thrive within the limits of our one planet. www.footprintnetwork.org