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The UK Interdependence Report: Findings Not Good 2006-04-15

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Europe, Science, Statistics.
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The UK is about to run out of its own natural resources and become dependent on supplies from abroad, a report says. A study by ‘The New Economics Foundation’ (‘NEF’) and ‘The Open University’ says 2006-04-16 is the day when the UK goes into ‘ecological debt’ for this year.

It warns if annual global consumption levels matched the UK’s, it would take 3.1 Earths to meet the demand.

In the sixties, the symbolic ‘ecological debt day’ was 1961-07-09; but twenty years on, it had shifted forward two months to 1981-05-14. The authors of ‘The UK Interdependence Report’ hope to highlight the need to curb rising consumption levels.

‘Eyes bigger than planet’:

‘NEF’ policy director Mr.Andrew Simms says this year’s debt day shows that the UK’s growing demand for goods and services is having an impact on the rest of the world.

Andrew Simms
‘On one level, there is absolutely nothing wrong with importing goods and services, but our eyes are bigger than the planet.

‘The problem is that we want to have our planet and eat it and not think about the consequences,’ The ‘NEF’ policy director said.

The findings are based on the concept of ‘ecological footprints’, a system of measuring how much land and water a human population needs to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the resulting waste. The report, produced by ‘NEF’ and ‘The Open University’s’ Geography Department, uses a number of examples that it says illustrate how resources are being wasted, including the following. In 2004, the UK:

  • Exported 1 500 tonnes of fresh potatoes to Germany, and Imported 1 500 tonnes of the same product from the same country
  • Imported 465 tonnes of gingerbread, but Exported 460 tonnes of the same produce
  • Exported 10 200 tonnes of milk and cream to France, yet Imported 9 900 tonnes of the dairy goods from France

The authors say this shows how current trade systems are inefficient at a time when there is concern over energy supplies and greenhouse gas emissions.

‘If you do not have the right signals within the economy to tell you when you are doing something very environmentally wasteful, then you cannot expect it to stop,’ says The ‘NEF’ policy director, the report’s lead author.

‘Lifestyles in Britain are becoming increasingly unsustainable and are placing an ever larger burden on the global environmental system.’

The UK’s food self-sufficiency has been falling steadily for more than a decade, and indigenous food production is now said to be at its lowest level for half a century.

In 2004, the UK lost its energy independent status when it became a net importer of gas following lower returns from the North Sea fields.

At a global level, the world is also living beyond ecosystems’ ability to supply the resources and absorb the demands being placed upon them.

  • This year’s ecological debt day for the world is 2006-10-23.

In the future, it is expected to be even earlier as emerging economies, such as China and India, demand more resources to meet changing lifestyles.

‘The earlier it creeps in the year, the more you are permanently running down the Earth’s environmental capital.

‘The problem is that we are not clever enough to know at what point we will see a crash within eco-systems.

‘While you are not living within the planet’s limits and are eroding ecosystems, and the earlier the ecological day falls in the year, the greater the risk of a system crash.’

The ‘NEF’ policy director said developed nations had a responsibility to share their experience and knowledge with developing nations in order to limit the impact on the environment. However, he added, despite the sharp rise in economic growth in the emerging economies, their consumption levels were still far behind developed nations.

Give and take:

Mr.Steve Bettison, from the free-market think tank, ‘The Adam Smith Institute’, described the report as ‘an interesting concept’ but questioned its findings on market inefficiencies.

‘The only inefficiencies in the market place are those that relate to government intervention and that do not allow for free trade to occur, such as tariffs on agricultural products, or protectionist measures.’

Mr.Bettison said market forces were the best way to control consumption of the world’s finite resources:

‘The usual “supply and demand” economics will govern where these resources are used.

‘This would also drive human ingenuity as people strive to develop new ideas to take up where previous resource supplies have waned.

‘It would be interesting to see how the rest of the world is dependent on the services and resources that we have developed over time.

‘Whilst we take, we also give — something that seems to have been forgotten.’

The ‘NEF’ policy director said the report was not calling for the UK’s borders to be closed because there were many benefits, both economic and cultural, to be gained from closer ties with other nations.

The report builds on previous studies that have used ‘ecological footprint’ measurements, such as ‘The WWF‘s’ ‘one planet living’ campaign. It also echoes last year’s ‘Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’, the most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet.

It concluded that human activities threatened the Earth’s ability to sustain future generations. ‘NEF’ and ‘The Open University’ hope the ‘ecological debt day’ will be used as an annual yardstick to measure the health of the planet.

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