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German Overshoot Day – “We cannot keep this like this”
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German Overshoot Day – “We cannot keep this like this”

A graphic showing different countries' overshoot days

It’s only May’s beginning, but Germany already has its Overshoot Day. In other words, per person, the country has used as much from nature in just over four months as the planet can renew in the space of a year. 

If everyone around the globe lived like the Germans, then we would need three planets to provide food and shelter. Clearly, however, we only have one.

Lara Louisa Siever is senior policy advisor for resource justicia at INKOTA. She said, “That should be an alert signal to reminds us of the gravity and the situation.” “It’s a wakeup for all of us citizens, politicians, and the industry. We cannot continue this way.” 

Calculated using international reasearch groups. Global Footprint NetworkOvershoot Days is a measure of how much we consume, how efficient products are made, the population size and how many times 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.

He said, “And this leads Germany to live on credit and take a lot more planet resources than we are supposed to.”

Too slow for progress

This is not the second time Germany has emptied its resources so quickly. In fact, the official Overshoot Day in Germany has been around the same date for 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 also said that it sends the wrong message to other countries that might be considering Germany for help in tackling the problem. 

“What they see is that Germany hasn’t made any progress towards its climate goals. They won’t consider it a priority. 

He says that Germany must take “giant, measurable steps to show it didn’t just set its goals but is actually working towards them.”

Military personnel extinguish a fire in Sumatra Island, Indonesia

Even though they emit less carbon than countries like Germany, countries like Indonesia feel the brunt.

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

Germany is not the only country to reach its Overshoot Day early in the year. Other high-income states like Qatar, Canada Luxembourg, Canada, United Arab Emirates, and the United States made it there 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 has not yet been announced for this year’s date, but it fell on the 22nd of August 2020. It fell on December 30th, 1970, and October 10th, 1990. In 2010, it was moved forward to August 6.

Kper said, “That’s what worries us so much, that overusing our resources has been going on for decades, and that globally we are seeing an increase in overuse. It’s an alarming trend that must be stopped immediately.

What must change?

Carbon emissions, which currently account for 60% in the earth’s ecological footprint, are one of the main reasons for exceeding the planet’s natural resources. If we emitted only half of that, Earth Overshoot Day would be three months later. 

Although transitioning to renewable energies is one of most effective ways to reduce emissions, Siever warns that we also need to be aware and mindful of the value chain of raw materials.

“Everybody wants a transition to renewable energy. We need metals and minerals to do this, like cobalt, nickel, and lithium. What we often forget is that the processing of these minerals and metals contribut 11% to global CO2 emissions, she said.

She is working together with civil society to push for a transition in raw materials that would see a dramatic reduction in our consumption of these raw materials. This is encouraged in part by the fact that the German government included in its coalition treaty a plan to reduce its raw materials use. 

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, a western German city, was home to a project that transformed an old railroad into bike paths.

A few kilometers away, in Aachen city, policymakers laid the strategic foundations for a climate-neutral municipality by 2030. The Achen roofs are large enough to support photovoltaics systems. 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 huge increase in public awareness about the day and the issues it represents. 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 Walker

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