The biannual Living Planet Report by the Global Footprint Network, WWF and the Zoological Society of London reveals that the timetable for reaching the 'two-planet threshold' has been cut by 20 years since the previous figures.
Looking at the changes taking place in the planet's ecosystems and in human consumption patterns, the report finds that global biodiversity has declined by 30% over the past 35 years and is continuing to do so despite some improvement in temperate areas.
Moreover, the ecological footprint analysis, which represents the extent of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems, shows that humankind is now using resources at a rate of 30% above the planet's capacity to regenerate them. The concrete consequences of the growing overshoot, such as deforestation, water shortages and climate change, can already be felt, it notes.
Considering the uneven distribution of natural resources, the findings suggest that most people now live in nations which are ecological debtors, covering their excess demand by importing resources from other countries. In the EU, the total ecological footprint is twice the size of the region's biocapacity, with the UK and Spain, for example, running an ecological deficit greater than 150%.
Nevertheless, the report suggests a variety of options to reverse the situation. While technological development will continue to provide sustainable solutions, much of what needs to be done is already known, it argues. For example, emerging economies can be supported via technology transfers. Urban planning can also foster more desirable lifestyles, while empowering women and promoting education and family planning can help manage population growth.
The success of such strategies is nevertheless conditional to managing resources "on nature's terms and on nature's scale," the report concludes, calling for global cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector to ensure that decisions in different sectors and across borders are taken with appropriate attention paid to broader ecological consequences.
Indeed, the report warns of the massive costs of inaction, concluding that the current prospect of economic recession "pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch". Nevertheless, the severe economic climate is taking its toll on attempts to avert these ecological threats.
Also at EU level, many member states are demanding exemptions from the bloc's climate change package to help industrial sectors that have strugged in the financial squeeze (EurActiv 21/10/08). In the UK, the Guardian reported on 26 October that the government's ambitious plans to build environmentally-friendly "eco-towns" have been down-sized from an initially promised ten sites to two as bidders pull out after the collapse in house prices.