TODAY (July 29) is Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) for 2021. EOD marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
If we think of planet Earth as a fixed deposit in the bank, and ecological resources and ecosystem services as the annual interest on that deposit, EOD is the day when the interest is used up.
The earlier the date is in a year, the worse it will be for humanity in terms of environmental and climate impacts. To humanity's collective detriment, EOD has been advancing every year up to 2019. There was a reprieve in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdowns worldwide, pushing the date back to August 22 from July 29 in 2019. But humans still consumed the resources of 1.6 planets in 2020.
The advance of EOD to July 29 in 2021 indicates that all the progress on sustainability achieved in 2020 have been squandered. Aspirations of civil society worldwide that Covid-19 would motivate governments to transition to a just, green and sustainable economy have not materialised.
Instead, various countries, both developed and developing, have given the green light for extractive industries, including mining and logging. This would lead to more pollution and rising carbon dioxide emissions, which are already causing climate change.
Despite the ugly face of development revealed by Covid-19, the language of the "global economy" has not changed. Economic growth and gross domestic product (GDP) are still relentlessly pursued and the urgency for sustainability in all areas of human endeavour is still seriously absent despite a moderately increased focus on ESG (environment social governance) by some corporations.
It's time to ponder again on the simple definition of sustainable development as first enunciated in the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Almost 35 years ago, the Report’s commissioners clearly concluded that while Earth’s resources were sufficient to sustain humanity’s needs for a decent life, there was no room for excesses, hence the carefully chosen emphasis on "meets the needs".
Existing inequity worldwide has been further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organisations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, reported that 162 individuals held the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world's population in 2019.
This unethical distribution of wealth is costing humanity dearly. EOD findings tell us that some countries are consuming resources equivalent to more than what five Earths can provide whereas others are barely surviving on the equivalent of about one-third of the planet.
The inescapable linking of "Environment and Development" was the strident message of the United Nations Earth Summit 1992, which gave us the blueprint for development into the 21st century known as Agenda 21. That agenda remains just as relevant and vital today.
Extreme weather events, including raging fires and torrential rain that are clearly attributed to climate change, demonstrate the urgent need for governments of the world at the highest level to address these issues by linking the environment with development. They must muster the political will to make a sustainability shift, which includes challenging the existing paradigm of consumerism that underpins the global economy, within the limited window of opportunity still open to humanity.
Environmental Protection Society Malaysia