Last reviewed 19 August 2020

Covid-19 has caused humanity's Ecological Footprint to contract, pushing the date of Earth Overshoot Day back by more than three weeks compared to last year, research shows.

Earth Overshoot Day, which occurs each year, is when humanity's demand on the Earth’s resources exceeds what it can regenerate in a year. Last year’s global resource budget was consumed by 29 July — the earliest date ever recorded.

This year’s overshoot was predicted to occur at the beginning of August but with current trends is now predicted to happen on 22 August, more than three weeks later than expected, interrupting the upwards trajectory which has been largely consistent since the footprint was first calculated in the 1970s.

Global Footprint Network (GFN), which maintains an annual watch on the world’s consumption of resources, says the coronavirus-induced lockdowns caused the global Ecological Footprint to contract almost 10%, but warns that the slowdown will be temporary.

Announcing the latest footprint assessment, Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom said: “Sustainability requires both ecological balance and people’s well-being ensured over the long-term, therefore this year’s sudden Ecological Footprint contraction cannot be mistaken for progress.” 

The calendar date is calculated using UN data and a range of other sources including the International Energy Agency. They add yields generated from agriculture, grazing land, forests, fisheries and carbon uptake to establish world biocapacity.

The global footprint can then be divided to produce individual country footprint performance. According to the 2020 data, most of Europe’s overshot occurred in spring this year, with the UK overshooting its footprint on 16 May — later than France, Germany and the Netherlands but earlier than Spain and Portugal. The US overshoot occurred in March, whilst the worst performer was Qatar which consumed its per capita yearly resources as early as February this year.

The GFN report says there are many solutions that can be adopted at the community level or individually to significantly impact the kind of future we invest in, including better transport systems, clean energy and sustainable food production.

GFN will mark this year’s Earth Overshoot Day in Glasgow on August 20 with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the University of Glasgow, in recognition of the postponed COP26 Climate Conference. The live streamed event will host leaders from the private and public sector in the UK and around the world.