Why Did Earth Overshoot Day Happen Earlier This Year?

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Earth Overshoot Day 2021 happened on July 29, almost a month earlier than the year before. It was pushed forward because emissions are on the rise and biodiversity loss is speeding up. Each year, Earth Overshoot Day represents the date humanity has used up all the biological resources the planet regenerates each year. We’re simply using far more resources than the Earth can sustain. 

This year, Earth Overshoot Day happened nearly a month earlier than last year. We ran out of our quota in using the planet’s resources on July 29, compared to August 20 last year. The date is announced annually by the Global Footprint Network, the global organisation calling for urgent climate action and sustainable consumption. 

Source: Global Footprint Network

‘We’re in the grip of a climate emergency’

Despite having almost half a year left in the 2021 calendar, we’ve used up all the resources that Earth can regenerate. For councillor Susan Aitken, leader of the Glasgow City Council, where the upcoming COP26 is due to take place, the earlier date this year is just another reminder that we no longer have time to delay climate action.

“If we need reminding that we’re in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it,” she said. 

This year’s date was nearly as early as the one in 2019. Last year, we experienced a momentary push back due to the pandemic-driven lockdowns, which helped lower our transport and industrial emissions. 

But since then, we’ve already seen a 6.6% increase in our global carbon footprint, while our global forest biocapacity decreased by 0.5% due to widespread deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Earlier this year, a report found that deforestation had increased by 12% in 2020, and estimates for 2021 suggest the figure will reach a 43% year-on-year increase. 

Rising deforestation is pushed forward Earth Overshoot Day 2021. (Image: Unsplash)

Humanity is using 1.7 Earths every year

Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by looking at which day humanity uses up all the biological resources the planet can regenerate within one year. It uses metrics from over 15,000 data points per country per year, from all sectors from food to timber and textiles. 

At our current rate, we’re using around 1.7 Earths every single year. From now until the end of the year, we’re operating on “ecological deficit spending”. Our spending for 2021 is among some of the highest since we entered into the overshoot territory in the 1970s, based on UN data. 

“This data makes abundantly clear that recovery plans in the post-COVID 19 era can only be successful in the long-term if they embrace regeneration and ecological resource-efficiency,” said Laurel Hanscom, CEO of the Global Footprint Network. 

Fossil fuels make up the largest share of our ecological footprint. (Image: Unsplash)

While air travel emissions are still lower than previous years due to the ongoing pandemic, economic recoveries happening around the world are driving up our total emissions from fossil fuel burning. Fossil fuels make up the biggest share of our footprint at around 60%, with coal being the top culprit, accounting for 40% of our total footprint. 

The Global Footprint Network also calculated the overshoot day for each country. High-emissions and resource-intensive countries like Qatar, Canada and the U.S. all used up their Earth quotas before mid-March this year. Myanmar and Indonesia, on the other hand, won’t use up their quota until December. 

Source: Global Footprint Network

Experts urge end to business-as-usual

Ahead of the COP26 due to be held in November this year, experts are urging global leaders to leave the business-as-usual approach behind. The earlier Earth Overshoot Day that occurred this year should serve as yet another alert that rapid action must be taken. 

“The perfect storm that is brewing, as climate change impacts and biological resource security converge, requires the same level—or higher—of alertness and swift action from decision makers,” said the network, in a statement. 

This week, amid unprecedented climate disasters taking place from all corners of the world, around 14,000 scientists signed an article calling for “transformational” action to curb the biggest planetary threat we face today. In the report, the scientists listed ending fossil fuels, switching to plant-based diets and the creation of climate reserves as crucial measures that the world must take. 

Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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