7.18.1 The Earth’s biocapacity is the amount of biologically productive area – cropland, pasture, forest, and fisheries – that is available to meet humanity’s needs. Humanity’s footprint first exceeded the Earth’s total biocapacity in the 1980s; this overshoot has been increasing since then. In 2005, demand was 30 per cent greater than supply. This global overshoot is growing and, as a consequence, ecosystems are being run down and waste is accumulating in the air, land and water. The resulting deforestation, water shortages, declining biodiversity and climate change are putting the well-being and development of all nations at increasing risk.
7.18.2 The ecological footprint is a comprehensive account of the resources consumed by a population, measuring the balance between human demand and nature’s supply. It estimates how much productive land and sea, expressed as global hectares (gha), is needed to provide the energy, food and materials we use in our everyday lives as well as how much land is required to absorb our waste. Data down to a local authority level has just been released for 2006, this supersedes previous years and is not directly comparable.
7.18.3 The South West’s ecological footprint shows that if everyone on the planet consumed natural resources and energy like the average resident in the region we would need 2.64 planets to support us. We are clearly living beyond environmental limits.
7.18.4 Experimental 2006 results for the South West, show that the region has an eco-footprint of 4.74 global hectares (gha), higher the UK average of 4.64 gha, well-above the world average of 2.2 gha and our 'fairshare' of 1.9 gha (SEI, 2010).
7.18.5 A breakdown of the region’s footprint reveals that food, transport and housing are the largest contributors, accounting for 26% (1.22 gha), 21% (1.01 gha) and 21% (1.01 gha) respectively. This was similar to the picture for the UK as a whole, except for the fact that the South West had a slightly higher transport footprint (21% compared to 19%) and a one percentage point lower difference in the food and housing footprints.
Figure 7.18.1 South West eco footprint by theme 2006
South West eco footprint by theme 2006 (Fig 7.18.1)
7.18.6 Within the region, just eight local authorities had eco footprints lower than the UK average (Plymouth, Exeter, Torbay, Bristol, Gloucester, Weymouth and Portland, Restormel and Kerrier). Cotswold had the highest eco footprint with 5.23 gha, followed by East Dorset with 5.09 gha. The lowest footprint was found in Plymouth with 4.38 gha and Exeter with 4.44 gha.
7.18.7 Full local authority data is downloadable at Resource Accounting.
7.18.8 A more detailed analysis of the South West's eco footprint is available on the South West Environment website.