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German Overshoot Day: “We cannot continue this way.”
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German Overshoot Day: “We cannot continue this way.”

A graphic showing different countries' overshoot days

Although May is just beginning, Germany’s Overshoot Day is already underway. In other words, per person, the country has used as much from nature in just over four months as can be regenerated in the space of a year. 

If all people lived like the Germans, then we would need three planets. Clearly, however, we only have one.

Lara Louisa Siever is senior policy advisor for resource justicia at INKOTA. She said, “That should be an alarm to remind us about the gravity of the condition.” “It’s a wakeup signal to all citizens, as well as politicians and industry, that this cannot continue.” 

Calculated by an international research group Global Footprint Network, Overshoot Day factors in how much we consume, how efficiently products are made, population size and how much nature can reproduce.  

A graphic showing different countries' overshoot days

Germany’s early Overshoot Day is down to its intensive use of resources in areas such as agriculture and energy inefficiency in buildings, says Stefan Kper, press spokesperson for the environmental and sustainable development NGO Germanwatch.

“And this leads Germany living on credit, and taking a lot from the planet more than we are supposed,” he stated.

Too slow progress

It is not the first instance of Germany exhausting its resources so quickly. The official Overshoot Day in Germany has been very close to the same date for many years. 

“And that’s also the saddest. We don’t see enough progress in Germany. We are not clearly making any real, tangible progress towards using fewer resources or emitting less greenhouse gasesses,” Kper stated. He added that it sends the wrong message to other countries who might be looking at Germany in order to see how it tackles the problem of global warming. 

“They see that Germany is not making any progress in achieving its climate goals. They won’t consider it a priority. 

Against that backdrop, he says Germany has to “take giant, measurable steps to show it didn’t only set goals, but is doing something to reach them.”

Military personnel extinguish a fire in Sumatra Island, Indonesia

Countries like Indonesia, which emit less than nations like Germany, feel the worst effects of the climate crisis.

Living in high-income countries comes at the expense of low-income countries

Germany is not the first country to reach the Overshoot Day, despite it being so early in the calendar year. Other high-income countries like Qatar, Canada, Luxembourg, Canada and the United Arab Emirates made it even earlier. 

Siever states that this is a fact that shows how industrialized nations are dependent on low-income countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia and Cuba. They use less resources and won’t reach their Overshoot Days before the end of the year.

“Germany is the fifth biggest consumer of raw materials in the world and is importing minerals and metals to 99% from countries in the Global South,” Siever said. These countries don’t consume the exact same amount of raw material, but they are the ones paying the price; the human rights degradations and environmental damages.

Info graphic showing which countries reach their Overshoot Day when

Earth Overshoot Day in all the decades

Half a century back, Earth’s biocapacity was sufficient to supply the annual human demand for resources. The date of ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ when all humanity has exhausted the resources necessary to sustainably live for a year has been slowly creeping up the calendar. 

It hasn’t yet been announced for this year’s date, but it fell on the 22nd of August 2020. It fell on October 10 and December 30, 1970, respectively. In 2010, it was moved forward to August 6.

“That’s what worries me so much, that we have been overusing our resources for decades, and that globally speaking, we are seeing an increasing level of overuse,” Kper said. It’s an unfortunate trend that must be stopped immediately.

What must change?

Carbon emissions are the primary culprits in exceeding the planet’s natural resources. They currently account for 60% of the earth’s ecological footprint. We would reach Earth Overshoot Day three months later if we emitted only half of that amount. 

While transitioning to renewable energy is one way to reduce emissions, Siever states that we must also be aware of the value chains of raw materials.

“Everybody is calling for a transition to renewable energy. This is possible only if we have the right minerals and metals, such as nickel, cobalt and lithium. What we often forget is that the processing of these minerals and metals contribute 11% to global CO2 emissions,” she said.

She is working with civil society to push for a raw materials transition that would see us use far fewer of them, and is encouraged by the fact that the German government included a plan to reduce its raw materials usage in its coalition treaty. 

Sustainable futures: Building a sustainable future

Many citizen initiatives, municipal policies, and business strategies are already driving positive change that could have an impact on Germany’s Overshoot Day in future.  

Wuppertal, a western German city, was home to a project that transformed an old railroad into bike paths. This network is expected to be used over the next 30+ years by 90 million cyclists. 

An overview of a railroad that was repurposed into a bike path

Wuppertal in western Germany was the site of a citizen-led project to convert an old railroad into a bikeway network.

A few kilometers away, in Aachen city, policymakers laid the foundations for a climate-neutral municipality by 2030. The area of Aachen’s rooftops that can support photovoltaic systems is sufficient to supply all residents with electricity. 150 rooftop solar installations have been funded, and another 1000 are planned for this year. 

Kper believes that such shifts can be attributed to citizen initiatives like Fridays For Future, which put pressure on politicians and demands change. Kper also believes that Earth Overshoot Day plays an important role in raising awareness around the issue.

“When we started to raise awareness about this day with other organizations almost no one knew about it. Now, I see a tremendous increase in public awareness of the day’s problems and its importance. This is what we need. Without public pressure, nothing is going to change as fast as we need it to,”  Kper said.

Edited By: Tamsin W. Walker

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