In 2017, 72% of people around the world lived in countries with both natural resource deficits and below world-average income, according to a study published in Nature Sustainability. These findings highlight the vulnerability of national economies exposed to natural resource constraints, and may explain how such countries end up in ecological poverty traps.
To maintain progress and eradicate poverty, countries need either sufficient natural resources within their country to match their ecological footprint, or money to competitively buy what they need on markets abroad. When neither of these two conditions are met, countries may end up in an ecological poverty trap — a situation in which the country’s natural resources are insufficient to provide enough food, fibres, building materials and CO2 sequestration, among other factors.
Mathis Wackernagel and colleagues compared and classified countries in four categories based on their gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and ecological deficit (the amount of biological resources they consume in excess of what their own ecosystems can renew) between 1980 and 2017, to analyse the exposure of national economies to resource constraints. The authors found that in 1980, 57% of the world’s population lived in a country experiencing a deficit in biological resources and below world-average income. However, in 1980 the worldwide ecological deficit was only 19%. In contrast, by 2017, 72% of the world’s population were exposed to both an ecological deficit and below-average income, and the global ecological deficit rose to 73%. They also found high- and low-income countries with an ecological deficit used 3.7 and 1.3 times more biological resources per capita than available per person worldwide in 2017, respectively.
The authors recommend that strategies to reshape resource demand should be developed, such as enhancing natural capacity and shifting consumption habits to prioritize wellbeing.
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