It’s only the beginning of May, but it’s already Germany’s Overshoot Day. In other words, the country has consumed as much of nature per person in just over four months as the planet can replenish in a year.
If people around the world lived like they do in Germany, we would need three planets to feed them. Although it is clear that we only have one.
“This should be an alarm signal to remind us of the seriousness of the situation,” says Lara Louisa Siever, Senior Policy Advisor for Resource Equity at the German development network INKOTA. “It is a wake-up call to all of us citizens, but also to politicians and industry, that we cannot continue like this.”
Calculated by the international research group Global Footprint Network, Overshoot Days factor how much we consume, how efficiently products are manufactured, population size and how much nature can reproduce.
Germany’s early Overshoot Day is due to the intensive use of resources in areas such as agriculture and energy efficiency in buildings, says Stefan Küper, spokesman for the NGO Germanwatch for environment and sustainable development.
“And that leads to Germany living on credit and taking a lot more from the planet than we should,” he said.
progress too slow
It is not the first time that Germany has used up its resources so quickly. In fact, the country’s official Overshoot Day has been more or less on the same day for years.
“And that’s the saddest thing. We see too little movement in Germany. We’re clearly not making any real, measurable progress towards using fewer resources or emitting fewer greenhouse gases,” Küper said, adding that this sends the wrong signal to other countries, who may be looking to Germany to see how the problem is solved of emissions.
“What you see is that Germany is not really making progress in meeting its climate goals.
Against this background, Germany must “take huge, measurable steps to show that Germany has not only set goals, but is doing something to achieve them”.
Countries like Indonesia are the ones feeling the brunt of the climate crisis despite emitting less than nations like Germany
High-income countries live at the expense of low-income countries
Despite Germany reaching its Overshoot Day so early in the year, it is by no means the first country to cross the dubious finish line. Other high-income countries such as Qatar, Luxembourg, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and the United States were there even earlier.
A fact Siever says underscores how developed countries live at the expense of low-income nations like Jamaica, Ecuador, Indonesia, Cuba and Iraq, which use fewer resources and won’t reach their respective overshoot days until the end of the year.
“Germany is the fifth largest consumer of raw materials in the world and imports 99 percent of minerals and metals from countries in the Global South,” said Siever. “These countries do not consume the same amount of raw materials, but they are the ones that bear the cost; the degradation of human rights and environmental damage.”
Earth Overshoot Day over the decades
Half a century ago, the Earth’s biocapacity was more than sufficient to meet humanity’s annual resource needs. But Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity as a whole has used up the resources needed to sustainably live for a year, has long been creeping up the calendar.
For this year, the date has not yet been announced, but it landed on August 22, 2020. In 1970 and 1990 it fell on December 30 and October 10, respectively. By 2010 it had shifted to August 6.
“I am very concerned that we have been overexploiting our resources for decades and that we are seeing increasing overexploitation worldwide,” said Küper. “This is a development that we must stop immediately.”
What needs to change?
One of the main culprits for exceeding the planet’s natural budget is carbon emissions, which currently account for 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint. If we were to emit only half of that, we would hit Earth Overshoot Day about three months later.
The transition to renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions, but Siever says we also need to be aware of the commodity value chains involved.
“Everyone is calling for a turn to renewable energies. But we need minerals and metals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel for this. What we often forget is that the processing of these minerals and metals contributes 11% to global CO2 emissions,” she says.
Together with civil society, she is committed to a raw material turnaround that envisages a radical reduction in our raw material consumption and is encouraged by the fact that the federal government has included a plan to reduce raw material consumption in its coalition agreement.
Shaping a sustainable future
Many citizen initiatives, local policies and corporate strategies are already driving changes that could ultimately have an impact when Germany hits its Overshoot Day in the future.
In the western German city of Wuppertal, citizens have initiated a project to convert an old railway into a network of cycle paths that should be used by 90 million cyclists over the next 30 years.
In the western German city of Wuppertal, citizens have initiated a project to convert an old railway into a cycle path network
Not far away, in the city of Aachen, politicians have set the strategic course for a climate-neutral city by 2030. The eligible area of the Achener roofs is large enough to cover the electricity needs of all residents. The financing of 150 solar roof systems has already been secured, and a further 1000 are to be initiated this year.
Küper believes that such shifts are due to citizens’ initiatives such as Fridays for Future putting pressure on politicians and demanding changes. And he says dates like Earth Overshoot Day play an important role in sounding the alarm around the world.
“When we started to draw attention to this day with other organizations, hardly anyone knew about it. Now I see a massive increase in public awareness of the day and the issues it poses. And we need that. Nothing works without public pressure.” Change as quickly as we need it,” said Küper.
Edited by: Tamsin Walker