Our planet is experiencing a severe resource deficit — and Denmark needs to act

BY Emma Tatham
26 March 2021

If everyone on this planet lived like the Danes, we would need 4.2 Earths. Can we really call ourselves “sustainable”?

We’ve all heard the saying: “when you borrow something, you always give it back in better shape than when you got it”. Regrettably, we are not applying this belief to our treatment of the planet. Our planet is in crisis, and it is trying to tell us in many ways.

Every year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources exceeds what Earth can regenerate. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 22. The pandemic pushed back the date by a mere three weeks compared to the previous year.

This day falls differently in each country. In 2021, Qatar was the first country to hit this distressing day on February 9th, and São Tomé and Príncipe will be the last on December 27th. It is important to note that not all countries have an overshoot day, since some countries have an ecological footprint per person that is less than global biocapacity per person. Ultimately, it should be every country’s goal to not qualify for this day.

One third into the year, Denmark is already experiencing a deficit

Today on March 26th, Denmark reaches its Overshoot Day and is the fourteenth country in the world to do so this year. While Denmark is widely considered to be a sustainability leader on the world stage, its overshoot day suggests otherwise. Denmark marks this day before all its Scandinavian counterparts and most other European countries such as Sweden (April 6th), Germany (May 5th), and the United Kingdom (May 19th). If everyone on this planet lived liked the Danes, we would need 4.2 Earths to not exceed capacity.

Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by taking the world’s biocapacity, which is the total capacity of ecosystems to regenerate what people demand from those surfaces, and dividing it by the world’s ecological footprint, which is the total consumption of Earth’s natural resources for that year. That number is then multiplied by the number of days in that year, and then you’ve got the overshoot day.

The antidote to despair is… Climate action!

Action is the antidote to despair, so let’s talk about some of the things individuals and businesses can do today on Denmark’s Overshoot Day. Individuals can make their commute carbon-free by walking or biking to work or simply working from home. Individuals can also transition to a plant-based diet and travel more eco-sensibly. While it is necessary for everyone to do their part, the burden should not solely rest on individuals at a time where we need a global, systemic solution to climate change. Therefore, it is time for businesses and governments to step up and take responsibility.

Businesses can set Science Based Targets and commit to reducing their CO2 emissions with the end goal of reaching net-zero. They can align themselves with ambitious frameworks such as the Future Fit Benchmark and become a company that takes a holistic approach to sustainability. Businesses can work strategically to significantly reduce emissions in their value chain and offset the rest as a last resort. Governments need to create ambitious climate plans with the necessary legislation to ensure targets are met.

We know change is possible and it is a matter of businesses, political leaders, and people making the commitment — now.


Author details

Emma Tatham