Adjusting National Economic Development Policy to the New Reality of Ecological Limits

The bad news is, it’s been a lean few months for posts.  The good news is, it’s because we’re too busy doing the work to report it.  Thankfully Global Footprint Network can do both.

Below is the Global Footprint Network‘s report to NNC regarding the status of the Ecological Creditor and Debtor Initiative (ECDI) project we are supporting.


Ecological Creditor and Debtor Initiative

To NextNow Collaboratory


Thank you; your contributions toward kick-starting the Ecological Creditor and Debtor Initiative (ECDI) over the last year has helped us to generate a global debate about how to best adjust economic development policy to the new reality of ecological limits.

Over the last year we have witnessed a paradigm shift beginning to emerge: public policy discussions are moving beyond GDP as their main focus. The debate “Beyond GDP” is even starting to consider the significance of measuring resource limits. The Ecological Footprint has been a significant player in this debate. Perhaps the most visible landmark event was President Sarkozy’s launch of his “Stiglitz Commission report.” This 290 page report, launched in September 2009, includes 15 quite thoughtful pages about the Ecological Footprint.

With 2009’s single focus on carbon due to the COP15-Copenhagen summit, many debates forgot that carbon is just a symptom, not the underlying problem. This is now changing. Our ecological creditor and debtor approach is peaking many people’s interest. People start to realize that from this perspective nations’ and cities’ self interest to act becomes much more apparent. It boosts the importance of ecological asset preservation and reshuffles budget priorities so investments will generate lasting results.

The Ecological Creditor and Debtor Initiative Results

Many of the ecological creditor countries are in Latin America. Through our ECDI last year we worked with several of these nations.

  • COMMUNITY OF ANDEAN NATIONS (CAN): the Secretariat is fully behind our initiative, and we launched “The Ecological Power of Nations” report with great success in both Lima and Quito. We also did an event around the report last November in Madrid with the Secreatry General of Iberoamericana ( This organization is similar to the British Commonwealth, and brings together all of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. (Their head, Enrique Iglesias invited CAN to produce this launch.) This built both a bridge to the Mediterranean engagement as well as to Copenhagen. In addition, we produced a “teaser report” on the Footprint with CAN. CAN has actively promoted the Footprint as for instance in this short but sweet video clip:
  • CHILE: We have a new partner in Chile called Recycla who has strong connections with the federal and regional government.  We are jointly proposing a city Footprint project with Providencia municipality in Santiago, Chile.
  • ECUADOR: We are moving actively forward with the national department of planning (SENPLADES).  Not only has Ecuador included the Ecological Footprint as a major sustainability indicator in their National Development Plan (the main agenda of their government), this document also stipulates Ecuador’s commitment to reduce their Footprint below their biocapacity by 2013.  Dania Quirola, SENPLADES advisor and our main contact there, participated with Global Footprint Network’s Director of Strategic Initiaitves Jennifer Mitchell and Global Footprint Network board member Haroldo Mattos at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) conference in Rio, 19 October. Initial financing for the collaboration is in place. Dania organized inter-ministerial meetings with me while he was in Quito and is firmly committed to the project. The first work sessions are being planned currently. Additional funding will be sought through other major international organizations such as IDB and Global Environment Facility.
  • PERU: We had productive meetings with the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (Ministerio del Ambiente), with the Vice Minister, her advisor and another staff member. They have written a letter of commitment – wanting to work with Global Footprint Network and we have secured funding for Phase 1 of a research collaboration. Also, there are now other ministries that have expressed an interest to collaborate and have even earmarked some budget to contribute to the effort. This is essential for the success. We have developed a draft proposal, and heard from GTZ (the German Development Agencies) that they are very interested in helping with initial funding. Follow-up funding might come from IDB and Global Environment Facility.
  • BRAZIL: We actively participated at the IDB conference in Rio, Brazil on October 19th to present our work on ecological creditor and debtor nations. This included also a presentation by our new board member, Haroldo Mattos de Lemos, former secretary of the ministry of environment. We have followed up with two more visits and are now engaged in a project with the City of Curitiba.
  • COLOMBIA: We have built strong relationships with various offices in the Colombian government, including EcoPetrol (Colombia’s national oil company), the Department of Planning, and the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development. We just signed the first contract (early May) with the Colombian government to initiate a project verifying the Footprint and biocapacity assessment for Colombia.
  • COSTA RICA: We are moving closer to national engagement with Costa Rica; we have been in conversations and have successfully navigated change in ministerial posts. They have confirmed interest for a national collaboration pending financing. The proposal they requested from was before the elections was stalled, but with the new government in place, it looks likely that they will take up the proposal again. Also, we presented in Costa Rica and have built allies in a number of institutions.
  • MEXICO: While not an ecological creditor, we are making great advances, having given two seminars recently (in Monterrey and in Mexico DF), and building a relationship with Pro Natura to engage with the federal government around the topic of low-carbon development. There is also interest from the organization “Sierra Gorda” in the State of Queretaro. Most likely in July, we will be having a training in Mexico City, which will include representatives of Queretaro.

Global Footprint Network also hosted a roundtable discussion at Copenhagen COP-15 on the premises of the European Environment Agency with representation from a number of nations including Ecuador and Peru. A solid by in was experienced from all the nations and that we need to adapt to the reality of “peak everything” beyond carbon. Keeping their country competitive and prosperous in an ever more resource constrained future requires careful management of both the availability of and demand on ecological resources. This strategy is already working for Global Footprint Network, for example, with Ecuador.In addition to Latin America, we are also engaging with three other regions.

  • MEDITERRANEAN REGION: The goals of Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean Initiative is to bring the reality of resource constrains into the national and international policy debate, help policy analysts and decision-makers more deeply understand the risk resource limitation poses to their economic stability, engage with nations so they will eventually make more effective and informed decisions. We started to engage with Mediterranean countries this January, have been writing a paper for the economics association of Egypt on the MENA region, developed a survey paper comparing the trajectories of all Mediterranean countries, and will use the Footprint Forum in Siena to engage representatives from these countries to explore options for succeeding in a resource constrained world. By the end of 2011, our goal is to have 2-3 Mediterranean nations fully engaged.
  • EASTERN EUROPE: This past year, Mathis was invited to speak before the presidents and environment ministers of a number of central and eastern European countries at a convening of the Regional Environmental Center (REC) in Budapest, a consortium of 17 nations. Through our close ties with the REC, we are working on a cluster-approach to informing leaders of central and eastern European governments of their national Ecological Footprint and biocapacity trends.
  • AFRICA: This year, Global Footprint Network participated in the first climate change science meeting held by UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a result, UNECA, which brings together over 50 of Africa’s finance ministers, wants to use the Footprint as a platform for climate and resource discussions throughout Africa. We are now in the process of developing an MoU for a collaboration with this pivotal intergovernmental commission.

We continue to engage with a number of governments around the world – and the opportunity to participate in the UNEP Governing Council in Nairobi, Africa in February 2009 allowed us to additionally build a number of good contacts.

We have been actively engaged with UNESCO – but the process slowed down with the recent change in leadership (a new director general was appointed last November). The plan to work with UNESCO on a significant conference – an Ecological Creditor and Debtor Summit – has been delayed, but we hope we will be able to reinvigorate this relationship with the new staff in place. In the meantime, we use other organizations’ venues to propose the ecological creditor and debtor perspective: Global Reporting Initiative, Regional Environment Centre, WWF, UNECA, are examples of such venues..

It is perhaps ambitious to set new standards for measuring progress – standards that encourage maintaining ecological wealth rather than liquidating it, as encouraged through blind focus on GDP. When we set our goal back in 2005 to get 10 nations to adopt the Footprint, we thought it was the most outrageous, far-fetched goal we could set.

But since then, our progress toward this goal has surpassed our expectations: To date, more than 35 nations have engaged with Global Footprint Network directly; 17 have completed reviews of the Footprint; and 5 nations – or 7, if we count Scotland and Wales – have formally adopted it. But adoption is only the beginning. We work with nations through a five-phase program ultimately aimed at helping them weigh their options and “bend the curve” – that is, shift ecological trends in the direction of sustainability – by making major changes in policy and investment.


There are rare times in human history when change occurs in great leaps rather than incrementally, and this is one of those times. During these periods, existing structures and belief systems lose their grip, openness to new possibilities emerges, values shift, and it is possible to define new goals for our human community. Global Footprint Network works to bring about a sustainable human economy, in which all can lead satisfying lives within the means of one planet. We believe that the Ecological Footprint is a crucial tool to helping leaders understand that operating within nature’s budget is in each nation’s self interest.

Thank you very much for your continued support of our work. We look forward to keeping you updated on our accomplishments, and partnering with you in supporting a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint.