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Measuring biocapacity and ecological footprint

Measuring biocapacity and ecological footprint

The most-used measure of a country’s progress is its gross domestic product (GDP), that is, the value of the goods and services produced by a country over a period of time, say a year. For FES Associate Dean Research and Professor Martin Bunch, a huge drawback of using GDP to measure a country’s progress, however, is that it does not fully reflect the society’s standard of living or income distribution. Indeed, simply because a country’s GDP is high does not mean that its people are doing well.

In this regard, more holistic indicators such as the human development index (HDI), can account for a country’s per capita income, life expectancy, education, and even inequality. However, both GDP and HDI still miss the fact that all economic activity and human well-being are embedded within and dependant upon ecosystems.

“One way to fill this gap is to measure the amount of biologically productive land and sea area that is needed to supply a person or a population with their current resource demands,” says Professor Bunch. The next step is to compare this to biocapacity, that is, the amount of biologically productive area that is available. This is what ecological footprint and biocapacity measurements do,” he explains.

In a partnership engagement project with the Global Footprint Network led by Mathis Wackernagel  (extreme right) towards Developing  the Ecological Footprint Research Initiative at York University, team members — Dean Alice Hovorka, Peter Victor, Ravi de Costa, Peter Mulvihill, Eric Miller, and graduate students Elizabeth Holloway. Anuja Kapoor, Maria-Louise McMaster, Jason Robinson and Mary Thornbush — are working to enhance the accounting methodology and improve data on which the concept of ecological footprint is based. The goal is for York to become the global data center for the National Footprint Accounts and to lead an international research collaboration to calculate how well countries are managing their natural resources and meeting their United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The National Footprint Accounts track the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of more than 200 countries and regions. This footprint data has been used by more than a dozen national governments to guide sustainability policy. Canadians are among the millions of people worldwide who have calculated their individual ecological footprint, while many municipalities and the Province of Ontario have used it as an environmental performance measure. When coupled with the UN Human Development Index, the Footprint can help determine if countries are on track to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The research will make a significant contribution in the development and implementation of resource allocation, protection, and measurement policies in Canada and around the world.  Given the success of the Ecological Footprint narrative on an international scale, the research is expected to reach a broad and diverse audience that will provide new ways to improve individual behaviour towards achieving environmental sustainability.