Population Matters

Two out of three countries ‘ecologically overshot’

Two out of three countries ‘ecologically overshot’

Two out of three countries are already consuming more individually than each can produce sustainably from its own resources, i.e. relying only on renewables, as we eventually must. This position can only worsen as population and consumption rise.


For World Population Day 2014 on 11 July Population Matters has released its updated Overshoot Index. Based on Blue Planet Prize-winning Global Footprint Network data, the Index relates each country’s biocapacity — the ability to provide renewable ecological services like water collection, food production and waste absorption — to the country’s population size and current per capita resource consumption. The Index shows that 96 out of the 146 countries listed, including all but seven or eight of the OECD nations, are already in overshoot, i.e. living beyond their ecological means. The Index in addition gives the biophysically sustainable population for each country, given current productivity and consumption levels.

The UK ranks as the 26th most overshot nation, with a sustainable population of 20.6 million people. England alone would be much higher up on the list.

“This puts the scale of the challenge facing the Sustainable Development Goals process into stark relief”, said Population Matters Chair Roger Martin. “Countries in overshoot are unsustainable from their own resources in the long-term unless they reduce their populations, or their consumption per head, or some combination of both. An increase in either worsens a country’s long-term position.


“Like the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report, we use data from the Global Footprint Network. The science of footprinting is inevitably an approximation, and, of course, technological development will improve productivity. But the figures do suggest how radically most of the rich and middle-income countries must reduce their per capita resource consumption and / or their populations to achieve genuine sustainability. The figures also show how much easier it will be for the poor countries, many of which are not yet overshot, to achieve sustainable development if they take action to stabilise their populations.

“The findings support the Royal Society’s view that population and consumption must be considered together if we are to live within the environmental limits of our increasingly depleted planet. The Sustainable Development Goals process will fail if we do not address both issues.”

Follow us