One Planet Living uses two headline indicators of living sustainably on Planet Earth:
Ecological footprinting, which is a way of accounting for a wide range of our demands on the Earth’s productive land and sea.
Carbon footprinting, which is derived from climate science, measures CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activity such as burning fossil fuels and agricultural practices.
Other social, financial and environmental factors are also important such as access to clean water, education, wealth distribution, economic activity and pollution. These are included in the ten One Planet Principles.
Ecological footprinting is a powerful accounting tool. It adds up in ‘global hectares’ the forests, fisheries and agricultural land required to produce the wood, crops and livestock we consume, the land we use for buildings and roads, and the forests required to absorb carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels.
People have very different ecological footprints depending on the countries they live in and their lifestyles. Globally we are consuming 50% more than the planet can sustain.
If everyone on Earth had the consumption patterns of an average European, we would need three planets to support us. If we lived like the average North American, we would need five planets.
However, we do know that it is possible to increase our quality of life while reducing our impacts to a One Planet level. For example, reducing car use increases walking and cycling - boosting health and wellbeing and reducing carbon emissions.
Well over half of our global ecological footprint comes from our carbon emissions. We know that humanity is warming the Earth and changing the climate by putting carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere, where they trap more and more heat as their concentrations build up.
Scientists agree that we have to radically reduce our output of these gases if we are to limit the risks of dangerous changes in the climate. The bulk of greenhouse gas emissions comes from burning coal, oil and gas for energy, but some forms of farming also make a big contribution.
At the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 world leaders agreed that the increase in global average temperatures should be kept well below 2°C from their pre-industrial levels, with a 1.5°C safety limit recognised as preferable. Yet global emissions are on a trajectory which makes it highly unlikely we can keep the temperature rise below 1.5°C – and this alone will cause changes in climate, ice cover and sea level which are destructive and dangerous.
To stay under 1.5°C, we cannot afford to release any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so we must move to zero carbon as soon as possible.