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Swiss Statistics

AnalysesSwitzerland's ecological footprint

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The ecological footprint measures the consumption of natural resources by the number of global hectares that would be required to regenerate these resources. To calculate a population’s ecological footprint, the quantity of natural resources consumed by that population are compared to the amount of natural regeneration capacity required to compensate for this consumption. This highly aggregated information (in absolute numbers) is available for regions and countries, as well as the total world population.


Switzerland's footprint is almost four times larger than its biocapacity

It measures, in 2011, 4.9 global hectares (gha) per capita. Our country's biocapacity, however, is a mere 1.4 gha per capita.

Switzerland's Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity

Our energy consumption largely determines our ecological footprint

Carbon emissions account for 66% of the ecological footprint, making it the most significant factor overall. It has also grown substantially more than any other factor of the ecological footprint in the last decades. Another major factor is our use of arable land, forests and natual meadows, which accounts for 30% of the total ecological footprint.

Composition of Switzerland's Ecological Footprint, 2011

We are living at the cost of other world regions and future generations

The imbalance between our country’s ecological footprint and its biocapacity has been existing for several decades and continues to grow. This lifestyle is only possible through the import of natural resources and the depletion of global goods (such as the atmosphere). However, this lifestyle is not sustainable, because Switzerland consumes almost three times the amount of natural resources that are available per capita worldwide (1.7 gha).

Switzerland's Ecological Footprint in Comparison to Global Biocapacity

We are consuming the Earth’s natural resources faster than the Earth’s regenerative capacity

In 2011, the world’s per capita ecological footprint is 0.9 gha higher than the world’s average per capita biocapacity. Switzerland’s ecological footprint is on average that of most western European countries. The United States, Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, some Gulf countries and some European countries have consumed more than three times the world’s available per capita biocapacity. In contrast, the consumption of many countries in South-east Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Africa is much less than the world’s average ecological footprint (see map below).


World map: Global distribution of the ecological footprint (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
World map: Global distribution of the ecological footprint


The ecological footprint is a kind of “resource accounting”

The ecological footprint measures the extent to which humans reduce the Earth’s regenerative capacity (biocapacity). This method calculates our consumption of natural resources, caused by activities such as agriculture, wood consumption or carbon absorption, into the surface area which would be necessary in order to regenerate resources in a sustainable way and to absorb emissions. The ecological footprint is an eloquent way of showing how much productive land or water is needed for a region, a country, or the world population to cover its needs and neutralize its waste. It shows the extent to which consumption of natural resources exceeds nature’s regenerative capacity (biocapacity). If the ecological footprint of the world’s population exceeds the world’s biocapacity, this leads to an over-exploitation of nature and therefore unsustainability.


The ecological footprint does not measure everything

The ecological footprint only accounts for the environmental dimension of sustainability, disregarding the social and economic dimensions. Furthermore, it measures the dynamics, but not the state, of the existing natural resources. The ecological footprint does not take into account the destruction of ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity or renewable or non-renewable natural resources. Neither does it take account of fresh water consumption, pollution by heavy metals, or emissions from pollutants of low degradability. The ecological footprint is therefore not an accurate indicator for sustainability.

This method was developed by the Global Footprint Network, and was evaluated in a study published in 2006 by the Federal Offices of Statistics, Spatial Development and Environment, as well as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The study compared data from the Global Footprint Network, which is based primarily on United Nations sources, to the official Swiss statistics for its ecological footprint. The study reveals that the datasets correspond to one another.

The method has been developed further, based on recommendations from this study and government reviews of other nations. The Global Footprint Network publishes updated and new results yearly, including Switzerland’s ecological footprint and biocapacity, as well as the results of 150 other countries.

To the report Switzerland's Ecological Footprint - A contribution to the sustainability debate External website. Content opens in new window.: a publication for the broad public, based on the study "The Ecological Footprint of Switzerland"
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