Green Economy = One Planet Prosperity

Is “One-Planet Prosperity” a boon for Switzerland?

The Ecological Footprint represents the simple, fundamental question: How much nature do we need, and how much do we have? All demands for areas that compete with each other can be added up. The sum is the Footprint. Demands on area include: food, fibre, wood, absorption of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, land for roads and houses. This area demand can then be compared to the existing productive area (called biocapacity).

The Ecological Footprint is a clear, open research question at the core of resource security. Everyone can answer the research question themselves by establishing the area balance. Any researcher can do it, or any country. Global Footprint Network focuses on national assessments, which are based on UN data. They provide a first approximation. Most probably they underestimate our resource use (because not everything is documented in the UN statistics). And they may overestimate what nature can renew. The latest results are: The world about 1.7 global hectares per person available (This includes productive sea and productive land area). On average, humanity uses currently 2.8 global-average hectares (or global hectares) per person. This is their Footprint. Switzerland uses 5.8 global hectares per person (Footprint), yet it only has 1.3 hectares of productive land per resident within its borders. If all people lived like the Swiss, it would take (5.8 / 1.7 =) over three Earths.

Living within the means of one planet Earth is a necessary minimum condition for humanity’s sustainability. The importance of this resource principle is even mentioned in the Swiss Federal Constitution: Article 73 on “sustainability” states: Confederation and the Cantons shall endeavour to achieve a balanced and sustainable relationship between nature and its capacity to renew itself and the demands placed on it by the population. The Initiative for a Green Economy proposed that Switzerland should live in a way that could be replicated worldwide by 2050. If Switzerland chose to live within its own ecological means, the Footprint reductions would have to be even larger since Switzerland has less biocapacity per person than the world.

The pressure for resources is increasing, worldwide. Not to adapt its resource use to these new circumstances would be a risk for Switzerland, especially because the Swiss income is decreasing relative to world average income. Adapting our infrastructure, energy systems, population size, production systems, etc. requires foresight, and cannot be done from one day to the next. If Switzerland plans ahead and adapts its systems at an early stage, its residents will be able to have hot shower today and in 2050. Also, it will strengthen its competitiveness.

A One-Planet Prosperity goal is necessary, and promotes innovation. Those who drive these necessary innovations will also be economically in a stronger position.

Nearly ¾ of the Swiss Footprint is carbon. The carbon Footprint is the biological capacity, which is needed to absorb the CO2 from burning fossil fuel. The Paris 2°C target implies that we should get out of the CO2 well before 2050 worldwide. This needs to be achieved without enlarging the rest of the Footprint. If the world does not reach the Paris goals, climate change will accelerate, and we put our resources security at risk. Making the transition is absolutely possible, technologically and financially, particularly in the energy sector, where the largest waves of innovation can still be expected. But even today’s technical options are sufficient for the transformation, if they were implemented.

Is the Footprint too imprecise, too limited, too old-fashioned? No. And the details and resolution of the accounting method can be strengthened if needed. However, the goal may need to be even more ambitious than what the current Ecological Footprint numbers may indicate as today’s accounts underestimate the tightness of the resource situation. One Planet Prosperity is a minimum requirement for a robust, stable, long-term business, as we, our children and our grandchildren deserve.