Earth Overshoot Day 2021 – a sobering reminder of the scale of the climate challenge
With 80 days to go until COP 26, Anne Adrain highlights the scale of the challenge we face in our fight against climate change.
This week's report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was described as a 'code red for humanity'. The increase in extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increased global temperatures are almost certainly as a result of human behaviour and some of the consequences are irreversible.
Since 2006, the Global Footprint Network has been estimating the date in each calendar when our demand for the earth’s natural resources exceeds the amount that can be produced and renewed. Known as Earth Overshoot Day, these calculations have been able to establish that date as far back as 1970. It was recently announced that, in 2021, the date fell on 29 July. As a result, from now until the end of 2021, we will be further depleting the earth’s stock of natural reserves, which are vital in our fight against climate change.
It may not be a surprise to learn that, in 2020, Earth Overshoot Day fell slightly later, 22 August to be precise, which is now viewed as a one-off and largely explained by reduced emissions as a result of a fall in production and travel due to COVID-19. Prior to 2020, the general trend was that Earth Overshoot Day was being reached earlier each year.
If we look back at past Earth Overshoot Days, in the first year of measurement, 1970, it fell on 30 December, meaning that our consumption was broadly in line with what the earth could produce and renew at that point in time. Over the subsequent 50 years, the date has gradually been pushed further and further back, albeit on a relatively steady basis, to its current position.
This may not be the message that global leaders want to hear as they get ready to meet in Glasgow in November at COP26. However, it is a sobering reminder of the challenge that all of us face in the fight against climate change and the need for urgent action. So far, 2021 has broken records for high temperatures in Europe and North America, seen devastating and tragic floods across Europe and China and we have witnessed the inconceivable reality of wildfires in Siberia.
The worst part is that many of these extreme weather events were predicted some time ago, but we failed to take early action. The difference now is that the extreme weather we have witnessed in recent years is worsening at a faster rate with the impacts much greater and more devastating, and, in some cases, tragically leading to loss of life.
We have an opportunity to make 2021 the year that really makes a difference in the fight against climate change. It feels as if this is the right time for action as world leaders come together in Glasgow in November to set out their ambitious plans to tackle climate change. With the support and involvement of the business community, and increasing public sentiment, we have a unique opportunity to accelerate our collective efforts and actions to protect our planet’s, and our own, future.