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Biocapacity here is the ability of earth to provide what humans demand of it in a sustainable way. Start by thinking of all the cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds and forests needed to extract our food and other essential resources, and put them all together. Then add all the land and forests needed to absorb all our waste and carbon emissions. Lastly, add all the space humanity takes up for our infrastructure, cities etc. All that, provided in a manner that is renewable, makes up earth’s biocapacity. The average biocapacity per person on the planet is 1.7 global hectares. This is our personal budget for all our needs.

A global hectare (gha) is a productivity weighted measurement of space. So a gha of cropland takes up less space than a gha of pasture land, according to their difference in productivity. This allows us to have a single unit of measurement for diverse environmental resources, and more importantly, of the environmental impact of our consumption habits.

The environmental footprint of consumption is therefore measured in the global hectares needed for those activities. When the footprint exceeds biocapacity, production is not sustainable and we have an environmental deficit. On a national level, biocapacity could be imported via trade. But on an international level, a deficit translates to environmental assets being depleted (think of fisheries, forests etc) and / or waste being emitted (land, sea and atmosphere). The total ecological footprint of humanity is 2.8 gha per person. In our current consumption levels, we need 1.7 earths to sustain us.

For more information and great visualisations, visit the Global Footprint Network.

*Source: Global Footprint Network. National Footprint Accounts, 2018 Edition. Downloaded 25/11/2018.

Below you can see a breakdown of the different types of consumption or biocapacity as well as historical data for each country. 

*Source: Global Footprint Network. National Footprint Accounts, 2018 Edition. Downloaded 25/11/2018.

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