A report ranking the world’s biggest polluters puts Australia in seventh place.
Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which compiled the report, says the spiralling global population and over-consumption are threatening the future health of the planet.
Australia has risen one place since 2010, and is now sitting behind Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Belgium and the US, in terms of its impact on the world’s natural resources.
WWF chief executive Dermot O’Gorman says there is no excuse for Australia to be so high on the list.
“Interestingly other countries which have similar or higher living standards than Australia also rank lower,” he said.
“So it shows that we can reduce the impact that we have on the planet while still maintaining the level of development.”
The results of the survey were calculated by comparing renewable resources consumed against the Earth’s regenerative capacity.
The demand on natural resources has become unsustainable and is putting “tremendous” pressure on the planet’s biodiversity, the body said.
The Living Planet Report found that high-income countries have an ecological footprint on average five times that of low-income ones.
Across the globe the footprint has doubled since 1966.
“We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal,” WWF International director general Jim Leape said.
“We are using 50 per cent more resources that the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast - by 2030 even two planets will not be enough.”
The survey, compiled every two years, reported an average 30 per cent decrease in biodiversity since 1970, rising to 60 per cent in the hardest-hit tropical regions.
The decline has been most rapid in lower income countries, “demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidising the lifestyles of wealthier countries,” WWF said.
Globally, around 13 million hectares of forest were lost each year between 2000 and 2010.
“An ever-growing demand for resources by a growing population is putting tremendous pressures on our planet’s biodiversity and is threatening our future security, health and well-being,” the group said.
The report comes ahead of June’s Rio+20 gathering, the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972.
Global leaders at the summit will seek to outline a path towards an economy that can balance economic growth, poverty eradication and protection of the environment.
The WWF wants to see more efficient production systems that would reduce human demand for land, water and energy and a change in governmental policy that would measure a country’s success beyond its GDP figure.
But the group says the immediate focus must be on drastically shrinking the ecological footprint of high-income countries, particularly their carbon footprint.
“Rio+20 can and must be the moment for governments to set a new course towards sustainability,” Mr Leape said.
“This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet,” said Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director of the Zoological Society of London, which co-produced the report along with the Global Footprint Network.
Thanks for reading to the end of this story!
We would be grateful if you would consider joining as a member of The EB Circle. This helps to keep our stories and resources free for all, and it also supports independent journalism dedicated to sustainable development. It only costs as little as S$5 a month, and you would be helping to make a big difference.