Overshoot day in France: "This quinquennium begins in the red"

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If all the inhabitants of the Earth lived like the French, the planet would have already exhausted, this Thursday, all that nature is able to regenerate. Arnaud Gilles, climate and energy manager at WWF France, therefore calls for an increase in the commitments of the next government to reduce an “ecological debt” which continues to increase each year.

Four months. It only took four months for France to start living beyond its ecological means: on Thursday May 5, the country consumed all the resources that the planet can renew in one year, announced the environmental defense organization, WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

This overshoot day, stopped on July 29 in 2021 for the entire planet, crosses the ecological footprint of human activities (land and sea surfaces necessary to produce the resources consumed and to absorb the waste of the population) and the “biocapacity” of the Earth (capacity of ecosystems to regenerate and absorb waste produced by humans, in particular CO2 sequestration).

This index, which has been steadily deteriorating for decades (with the exception of the year 2020 marked by the Covid-19 crisis), aims to illustrate the consumption of an expanding human population on a limited planet. And it is also broken down by country.

For 2022, the day of the overshoot for France falls on May 5, about 5 months earlier than in 1961. If the whole world consumed today like the French, it would take 2.9 planet Earths to meet the needs of the inhabitants .

An alarming observation, but which should make it possible to move the lines during the next five-year term, hopes the WWF. Arnaud Gilles, climate and energy manager of the organization, ensures that it is possible to push back this “overshoot day” by 25 days by 2027. Interview.

France 24: How is calculated “the day of the overshoot”, this index which has become a strong marker of the depletion of natural resources ?

Arnaud Gilles: This index is calculated with the experts of the American NGO Global Footprint Network, which annually collects the data needed to assess our footprint on natural resources. The most important is our carbon footprint, i.e. all the emissions generated by products consumed in France, manufactured locally or imported. This represents 57% of our total ecological footprint.

We also measure the impact of agriculture and livestock using the databases of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This allows us to assess the evolution of food waste or the consumption of animal proteins (milk, eggs, meat). Then, we look at what we do with the oceans, in particular how many fish are caught by species.

Another important data of the calculation concerns soil artificialization [aménagement d’un sol naturel]. Over the past 10 years, 25,000 hectares have been developed in France. This is extremely concerning as it eats away at valuable lands, landscapes and ecosystems for humanity. Finally, we evaluate our consumption of wood used to build buildings, furniture, paper or burned to create energy.

How has “the day of overshoot” evolved in recent years and what are the human activities that weigh the most in France on our “ecological debt” ?

The ecological performance of previous mandates has been rather negative since all the presidents of the Fifth Republic have participated in digging our footprint and advancing in the year “the day of the overshoot”. On average, between 1981 and 2007, the “overshoot day” advanced by 10 days at the end of each presidential term.

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The carbon footprint is really structuring. For France, this will concern the car fleet, which represents 7% of territorial emissions in 2019. In all, transport represents nearly a third of French emissions. The energy consumption of our buildings also plays a big role, as does meat consumption.

The WWF explains that it is possible to push back the day of the overshoot by 25 days in a term. How ?

The bad news is that in four months we used up all of our “nature budget” that we had for the year. But the good news is that we can do much better in five years. In concrete terms, this means acting for the thermal renovation of buildings. You would have to go ten times faster. Today, there are a few tens of thousands of global renovations, 700,000 would be needed by the end of the five-year term.

We must act in all areas: in transport, we recommend reaching 20% ​​electric vehicles by 2027, compared to 2% today. It is also necessary to get out of the “all-car” and considerably develop the use of bicycles. We also propose to reduce our consumption of animal proteins by 20% and to halve food waste. It is also necessary to reduce the rate of artificialization of the soil. There is a good objective written into the Climate and Resilience law, now we must implement it and reach the objective of 15,000 hectares consumed each year, against 25,000 currently.

Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term has been criticized for his lack of ecological commitment by environmental defense associations. Do you think the next term will be different ?

Emmanuel Macron displays his ambition to make France a great ecological nation and to deploy “ecological planning”. On Wednesday, we submitted our work to the President of the Republic, who expressed an interest in these results. We want to show that it is possible to do much better than during the previous five-year period.

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This is an opportunity to make history for Emmanuel Macron by becoming the first president to put France on the path to reducing its ecological footprint. This quinquennium begins in the red and we would like to end it in the green, or at least to take the path.

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