By: Reem Barakat
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The planet has certain resources and services to provide for the human social wellbeing. These resources are limited and therefore tied with boundaries. Crossing these boundaries might run the risk of depleting the planet’s capacity for regeneration and thus providing for humanity. As the human pressure on resources increases, a planetary scale transformation and attentive management of the interaction between humans and the ecosystem are critical (Borucke et al, 2012).
What is the ecological footprint?
"The ecological footprint is a potential tool to jointly measure planetary boundaries and the extent to which humanity is exceeding them" (Borucke et al, 2013, pp.519). Two measures are taken into account while calculating the demand and supply of ecosystem services, and those are the ecological footprint and the biocapacity. The first measures the annual demand that the population and activities place on the ecosystem. The second measures the quantity of productive biological land and sea areas, and their ability to provide ecosystem services for humanity.
The ecological footprint basically stands for the appropriation of land use types to supply the human demands of the ecosystem services as expressed by Borucke et al (2013). Thus, there are five land types and six demand categories, as follows:
- Cropland: The area specified for growing crops and their products, such as livestock feeds and oil crops.
- Grazing land: The crop area specified for supporting and raising livestock, in addition to grassland.
- Fishing grounds: The area used for measuring the annual amount of production that is needed for sustaining marine species.
- Forest land: The annual harvest of fuel woods and timber used for supplying forest products.
- Built-up land: The land used to build human infrastructures, such as transportation, houses, and industrial structures.
- Carbon footprint is dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide which is a waste product coming from greenhouse gas emissions as a result of human activities. It is important to mention that the biocapacity of carbon footprint is the only one that is not clearly defined yet.
Figure 1. The ecological footprint measures (Global Footprint Network, n.d)
How to calculate your ecological footprint?
There is a network called “Global Footprint Network”. Most ecological footprint practitioners have joined this network, which enables individuals, groups and even nations to calculate the biologically productive area that is needed to supply the resources needed by humans. It additionally measures the planet’s ability for the absorption of carbon dioxide emissions.
It basically works by adding up the human demands on resources through what was previously mentioned as land use types. The sum of these demands and consumption of materials and wastes is expressed by global hectares per capita or per nation. A global hectare is a measuring unit encompassing the annual average productivity of land and sea areas that are biologically productive (Global footprint Network, n.d).
By taking this simple quiz in the link below, you can calculate your ecological footprint and discover how many planets are needed to support the lifestyle you’re leading (Make sure you press on the “Add details to improve accuracy” inside the quiz button for a more accurate result).
Ecological footprint in the United Arab Emirates and Palestine
The country that was ranked the first in the world as the biggest per capita ecological footprint is the United Arab Emirates, according to a report made by Global Footprint Network in 2006. Its ecological footprint reached 12 hectares per capita, which equals 120 dunums. The United Arab Emirates government partnered with the Global Footprint Network, and a number of environmental ministries in the UAE to start an initiative for a better understanding of the methodology behind this ranking. This initiative put the UAE on the road to follow Switzerland and Japan as the third country in the world to invest in an in-depth research about its ecological footprint. Additionally, it is now representing a model in using the ecological footprint to measure consumption manners and guide effective policies towards actual footprint reductions (Global Footprint Network, 2015).
In the Palestinian context, the ecological footprint in Palestine and specifically in the West bank and Gaza district as Kurzum explained (2016), reached 4.6 dunums per capita in 2013 in comparison to the global ecological footprint average (22 dunums which equals 2.2 global hectares). Whereas the biocapacity is 1.3 dunums per capita in Palestine, which results in a 3.3 dunums gap. This gap is a result of the Israeli practices against Palestinians, which is presented by the seizure of natural resources, and the displacement of Palestinians from their lands and natural resources.
Palestinian and Israeli footprints
In addition to the Israeli practices represented by the seizure of natural resources and the Palestinian deprivation, there are other factors that might explain the biological gap in Palestine. The limited area available in contrast to the growing population is one of those factors, especially in Gaza. The growing population means that the rates of water and energy consumption will go higher and that will increase the gap between biocapacity and demand, which Palestine has been going through in the last few years. There has also been an increase in the amount of waste produced in Palestine, as it reached almost 1.70 tons in 2015. Although Palestine is experiencing this gap between biocapacity and demand, its ecological footprint is still the least in comparison to its surrounding neighbors( Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2015).
It is good to mention that Israel is considered one of the largest per capita ecological footprints in the world. Its ecological footprint is 55 dunums per capita, although there is a 51 dunums per capita gap between biocapacity and demand. The reason behind this large gap is Israel's misuse of the natural resources which were taken away from the Palestinians to the point of exhaustion (Kurzum, 2016).
Fertility rates and the population growth in Israel are among the main factors contributing to Israel’s large ecological footprint. The average fertility rate for Israeli women equals three children per woman, and this is nearly double the average fertility rate of women in the industrialized world. Naturally, the population growth places a huge pressure on natural resources as mentioned before but it is not the only contributor to this depletion. The consumption rate associated with the increased GDP plays a major role, aside to the amount of imports and exports. Apparently, Israel exports most of its food production, while it imports more than 55% of its calories (Deegan, 2017)
What Israel is doing is not only depleting the natural resources, but it is also contributing enormously to global warming in several places including central coastal area and the Negev area. The raise in gas emissions, CO2 in specific has affected climate change evidently. There has been a rise of 1.5c in temperature, which equals double the global warming rate. Additionally, Israel's dependence on primitive energy generation methods through coal burning adds up to the levels of CO2 emissions. Accordingly, the yearly rate of greenhouse gas emissions in Israel is more than 12 tons per capita, in comparison to 10.5 in European countries and 0.8 tons in the West bank and Gaza district (Kurzum, 2016).
There is a big difference in the ecological footprint and gap levels between Palestine and Israel, and this difference is a result of the reasons mentioned earlier. Generally and according to a report made by Global footprint Network (n,d) on the accounts of 2010 data, all of the Mediterranean countries have different gap rates between biocapacity and demand. A link has been made between per capita income level and the biocapacity deficiency level. Countries with high per capita income, have higher demand levels on natural resources, and therefore place higher pressure on the area's biocapacity. Those countries living in high social welfare at the expense of the countries with low per capita income such as the Palestinian- Israeli example need to reassess their policies. They also need to guide their natural resources consumption in order to reach equal levels of biocapacity and demand. The result will consequently be lessening the global ecological footprint, in addition to the living standards gap between these countries.
Borucke, M. et al. 2013. Accounting for demand and supply of the biosphere’s regenerative capacity: The national footprint accounts’ underlying methodology and framework. Ecological indicators 24, pp. 518-533.
Deegan, B. 2017. Israel’s overshoot of biocapacity: The highest in the OECD. The Jerusalem post. Available at:
http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israels-overshoot-of-biocapacity-The-highest-in-the-OECD-501445 [Accessed: 27 September 2017]
Global Footprint Network. 2015. United Arab Emirates. Global Footprint Network. Available at: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/2015/11/18/united-arab-emirates/ [ Accessed: 26 September 2017]
Global footprint Network. n.d. FAQs. Global Footprint Network. Available at: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/faq/ [Accessed: 26 September 2017]
The ecological footprint measures. N.d. Global Footprint Network. Available at: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/ [Accessed: 26 September 2017]
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