Responsible consumption for healthy ecosystems

by Dr. Philipp Staudacher, 13.12.2022
Global consumption is currently using the resources of almost two Earths.

Related SDGs

Wildlife populations are under threat. On average they have decreased by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Their loss is evidence that their habitats are disappearing. Currently we are consuming 1.75 times the resources earth can provide. To foster life on land and under water we need to consume more sustainably. The solutions are ready. 

 

 

Your favourite animal is probably endangered

What is your favourite animal? A rhino? A sea-turtle? An orangutan? A lynx? Now think of its role as part of an ecosystem. As top predators lynxes are a keystone species, helping to maintain balanced, healthy populations of other animals. Like wolves, bison, and beavers, they change habitat structure or prevent the potential dominance of another species. Now think of your favourite animal from a different perspective: Although most of us may have a favourite wild animal, this doesn’t necessarily boost their chances of survival. If we take the biomass of all mammals together, humans make up about 36%. Domestic livestock, mostly cows and pigs account for 60%, and wild mammals only 4%. If all animals were of the same weight there would be 15 cows or pigs for every wild mammal. Most likely there aren’t 15 people with a favourite livestock animal for every person with a favourite wild mammal.

Average decrease in monitored wildlife populations between 1970 and 2018
Source: Living Planet Index, 2022

Biocapacity is diminishing through overconsumption

The global Living Planet Index (LPI) tracks the abundance of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians around the world. The trends in abundance give a snapshot of changes in an ecosystem. The LPI shows an average 69% decrease in monitored wildlife populations between 1970 and 2018. Declines in abundance are warning indicators of overall ecosystem health. Such a steep decrease by 2/3 should be taken as a clear warning sign.

The Global ecological footprint exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate. Source: own illustration, data from overshootday

Currently we are overusing our planet by at least 75%.The Global ecological footprint exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate. Our global ecological footprint is much larger than what earth can regenerate every year. This means we are extracting resources to the equivalent of 1.75 earths. Or to put it differently, every year after the first seven months earth’s capacity to renew its resources is exhausted, and we live five months off the substance. On a national scale it’s even worse: While the lifestyle in Qatar exceeds earth’s capacity already by mid-February, Switzerland makes it at least until mid-May. Only about a quarter of all nations use fewer resources than earth provides, among them are Cambodia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Rwanda, and Uruguay.

Reducing resource use through circular economy and certification

When we extract resources, we need to do it in a sustainable way. This means we need to manage ecosystems from which we extract regrowing resources such as fibre and food in a way that does not negatively impact the harvests of future generations. Let us look at some examples:

#CertifiedForests are managed in a way that ensures that the biomass that is being extracted is in balance with their potential to regrow. At the same time, forests need to keep their ecosystem functions beyond the mere production of timber or firewood, I.e., they play an important role in water retention, as recreational spaces, or avalanche protection.

#CertifiedRawMaterials and #CertifiedFoods on the other hand need to be managed in ways that minimize water extraction and soil nutrient depletion, while at the same time not introducing chemicals into the ecosystem that can negatively impact its inhabitants. Sustainable agri-food systems consider the nutrient and water management, but also select locally adapted varieties and avoid monocultures.

The 9 R’s of living a sustainable lifestyle. Source: own illustration

Finally, there are ways to deal with our resources after they have been grown or extracted. Typically, the best is to rethink whether you need something, or how a product solves a problem. When you receive items you don’t need, e.g., plastic-cutlery in a take-away restaurant, you can simply refuse to accept it. Reducing waste or reusing packaging (and other goods) are further strategies to use resources more sustainably. Meanwhile, many companies offer rental services for all kind of machinery, tools, and cars. Most items can not only be rented, but they can also be repaired. The same way you don’t throw away a car with a cracked windshield, you wouldn’t throw away a smartphone with a broken screen. But if you must dispose of something then do it in a way that resources can be recovered and recycled.

 

Responsible consumption and production to foster life on land and below water

The radiTheme Healthy Ecosystems focusses on three Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 12, 14 and 15.

SDG 12 “Responsible consumption and production” addresses the sustainable and in particular the environmentally sound management of materials and goods: The efficient use of natural resources from extraction to production and consumption throughout their life cycle towards reuse, recycling or waste.

SDG 14 “Life below water” is concerned with the sustainable use of oceans such as harvesting of food, reducing pollution into them, and the protection of marine areas. This can also be summarized as the biodiversity and its use in marine areas.

SDG 15 “Life on land” is its compliment outside of salt water, covering all lands and freshwater. Its focus is on forest management, combatting desertification, as well as the halting and reversal of land degradation and biodiversity loss. Furthermore, wildlife trafficking and protection from invasive species are targets as well.

You can invest in healthy ecosystems by focussing on companies offering solutions to SDG 12, 14 and 15. For a more detailed view on how to invest aligned with the SDGs, see our Investment Website.

Read more on whether the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 will bring the ‘Paris Moment’ for Nature’.

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