Dutch ecological footprint

Dutch ecological footprint one of heaviest in Europe

24th May 2012, Comments 0 comments

If everyone were to adopt the Dutch lifestyle, the planet’s natural resources would be exhausted by 2030.

The 2012 report Living Planet - Biodiversity, Biocapacity and Better Choices describes the impact of the world's human population on nature and the planets' ecosystems.  According to this biennial report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Dutch ecological footprint is four times the size of the official sustainable recommendation.

Ecological footprint

An ecological footprint is the amount of earth's surface required by individuals and communities to sustain their use of natural resources in meeting requirements for the activities of daily life.  The WWF report ranks the Netherlands in 9th place worldwide, following Qatar, Kuwait, UAE United States, Canada, and Australia.  Closer to home and also included in this top ten list were Denmark (4) and Belgium (6).

"The size of a person's Ecological Footprint depends on development level and wealth, and in part on the choices individuals make on what they eat, what products they purchase and how they travel."   

(Read the full WWF report here.)

Dutch ecological footprint is four times over the limit

In terms of global hectares, the Dutch footprint measures 6.34 gha. This is twice the size of the Brazilian footprint and six times the size of the Indian ecological footprint.   For the earth to support itself, scientists estimate that an ecological footprint of 1.8 gha is permissible.  This means that if every person had the same ecological footprint as the Dutch, the planet would need to be 3.5 times larger than its actual size.

What is going on in the Netherlands?

There are strict laws regarding the recycling and disposal of home waste products; an increasing number of electrical cars; more wind turbines; a decent public transport system; and the paths are clogged with cyclists; all giving the impression that in terms of strategies aimed at environmental impact reduction, the Netherlands is a world leader.

According to the Dutch National Environmental Action Plan, fifty percent of the reason for the high ecological footprint is due to carbon dioxide absorption.  And this is more than the high number of cars on the roads; planes in the skies; and factories on the horizon.

The Netherlands is a small country measuring only 4,154,300 hectares and populated by about 16.7 million people.  The World Bank estimates Dutch arable land is 1,054,000 hectares, which equates to a possible 31.6 percent of Dutch land being viable for growing crops.  This means that for each person living in the Netherlands there is 0.06 hectares of arable land, which is significantly less than the current size of the Dutch ecological footprint. (Read more on measuring the Dutch footprint.)

So, the high ecological footprint ranking should come as no surprise to the Dutch government.  More than twenty years ago researchers reported that the Netherlands required a land mass fifteen times its current size to support of Dutch consumption levels of food and resources.

Dutch diet

The Dutch diet is high in meat and dairy products, which requires considerably more land to cultivate than for plant crops.  The main food item imported to the Netherlands is fodder for livestock.  As this land is not available for agricultural purposes in the Netherlands, food stocks must be grown elsewhere and imported.  By elsewhere, reports indicate that this agricultural land is located in developing countries where the local farmers grow these cash crops instead of the food crops essential for feeding their own people.

Global population growth and higher energy consumption

The WWF report outlines the consistent trend towards overconsumption, exacerbated by a constantly growing population.  Since 1950 the world population has doubled in size, with WWF predicting that there will be over 9.3 billion people by 2050.  In addition to more people relying on decreasing levels of natural resources, the issue is further complicated by higher energy consumption by countries like China and India, as they enter into the Developed World marketplace.

Loss of biodiversity

Further, a reduction in biodiversity of plant and animal species, which has been measured as a 60 percent reduction in some tropical areas, has placed severe stress on natural ecosystems responsible for natural fuels, carbon storage, freshwater movement and marine life. Losses in biodiversity have the greatest effect on the world's poorest people who rely on these ecosystems and natural resources for their livelihoods.

Expatica/ Ana McGinley


 

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