Global human footprint growth slower than rise in population, economy: Report

The analysis reveals that while global population grew at 23% and global economy grew 153% between 1993 and 2009, the global human footprint grew only 9%


The analysis was done by a team of researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO working on environmental issues, and six other universities. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
The analysis was done by a team of researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO working on environmental issues, and six other universities. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

New Delhi: Global impact of human activities on the environment is extensive but it is expanding at a much slower rate than the growth rate of population and the economy, said a new report released on Tuesday.

The analysis was done by a team of researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an NGO working on environmental issues, and six other universities.

The analysis, which was published in the international journal Nature Communications, reveals that while global population grew at 23% and global economy grew 153% between 1993 and 2009, the global human footprint grew only 9%.

According to the analysis, high-pressure biomes, or large ecological areas, include the temperate broadleaf forests of western Europe, eastern US and China, the tropical dry forests of India and parts of Brazil, and parts of south-east Asia’s tropical moist forests.

“The human footprint continues to expand on Earth, but at an overall rate that is slower than the underlying rates of population and economic growth. These results are profound for nature and humanity. Still, the near ubiquity of the pressures we exert on nature highlight the enormous challenges involved in achieving continued socio-economic growth without widespread environmental degradation,” the analysis said.

Explaining further, Oscar Venter of the University of Northern British Columbia, who is also the lead author of the analysis, said: “Seeing that our impacts have expanded at a rate that is slower than the rate of economic and population growth is encouraging. It means we are becoming more efficient in how we use natural resources.”

The report’s authors, however, added that while environmental impacts may not be tracking the exact growth rate of economies, they are already frighteningly extensive.

“Our maps show that three quarters of the planet is now significantly altered and 97% of the most species-rich places on Earth have been seriously altered. There is little wonder there is a biodiversity crisis,” said James Watson, the co-author of the study from the University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society.

The study found that lower-middle income countries are recording the greatest increase in human footprint, while high-income countries are recording the least. It also noted that footprint trajectories have actually reversed in the wealthiest nations.

“However, it is important to determine if this trend is driven by measures of socio-economic and governance conditions or rather by patterns of trade that allow some countries to transfer their demand for food and raw materials to other countries. For example, almost 40% of beef produced in the Amazon is not consumed domestically but instead exported for consumption in European Union countries,” it added.

The analysis said that high pressures in much of the planet highlights the urgent need for enhanced conservation interventions and that “some of the hardest decisions about protecting natural landscapes must be taken within the planet’s most biologically valuable regions”.

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