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Humanity living on costly overdraft

OAKLAND, CA: According to the Sustainability think tank Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity has used up its natural resources budget for 2014 and is now "overdrawn".

GFN tracks humanity's demand on the planet against its ability to replenish the natural resources and absorb waste, including CO2.

In 1961, humans used about 75 percent of the Earth's available ecological resources for food, fiber, timber, fish stock and greenhouse gas-sequestration capacity. By the early 1970s, global economic and demographic growth had increased humanity's footprint beyond what the planet could renewably produce. The organisation describes this as "overshoot".

OCHA"Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century," said Mathis Wackernagel, GFN president. "Each individual country's availability of, and dependence on, natural capital will affect its economy and define how it can weather this global storm."

GFN notes 86 percent of the world's population live in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. At the same time it says population, energy and food projections will require the capacity of three Earths well before the middle of this century.

"Economist Thomas Piketty has shown that the current market economy drives inequalities," explained Wackernagel. "As increasing natural capital constraints affect our ability to grow our economies, addressing inequality becomes even more challenging," he added.

GFN says the mounting ecological debt forces humanity to "pay interest" in the form of deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of atmospheric CO2. The result, it adds, is a human and economic cost that transcend borders: "Even high-income countries need to realize that a long-term solution requires addressing biocapacity deficit before it turns into a significant economic stress," said Wackernagel.

The GFN data coincides with the release of a UN report that says 2014 has seen a major surge in humanitarian crises around the world. UN response plans now target more than 76 million people in 31 countries compared to 52 million in December 2013.The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says 102 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance compared to 81 million in December 2013.

As a result, the money needed has risen from US$12.9 billion in 2013 to US$17.3 billion now – the highest figure ever recorded. Like the current Ebola crisis, OCHA notes that more and more events are going beyond local borders to other countries that are already vulnerable.

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