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Ecological Footprint of European countries

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Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)

Justification for indicator selection


Established methodology: the indicator is already developed and produced by Global Footprint Network and has matured significantly over its 15 years of existence, both with regards to data sources and methodology.

It is of high policy relevance because it indicates the overall resource demand of European societies compared to resource availability in Europe and in the rest of the world.

Geographical and temporal coverage: the indicator has a worldwide coverage and data are available on a long time scale (1961-2003 and annually updated). The core data are on the national level and allow for aggregations at different physical scales. The indicator can be disaggregated to provide information on specific resources or ecosystems.

The ecological footprint is a powerful tool for communicating with and reaching a wide range of audiences, to promote an understanding of how people's activities have an impact on the environment, and to support people in making choices to reduce this impact.

Scientific references:

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

The ecological footprint for Europe is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water area Europe requires to produce all the biological resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and management. This area could be located anywhere in the world. This can be compared with the biocapacity of the planet or the one available within a given region. Both biocapacity and the ecological footprint are measured in global hectares.


Global hectares per person

Policy context and targets

Context description

When considering the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment notes that: 'in particular, growing consumption of ecosystem services (as well as growing use of fossil fuels), which results from growing populations and growing per capita consumption, leads to increased pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity'.

Therefore, if progress towards the 2010 Target is to be assessed effectively, human resource demand and its relationship to the biosphere's productive capacity must be measured. The ecological footprint provides an indication of human consumption in relation to planet Earth's capacity to renew the ecological resources and services being consumed.

The indicator provides a quantitative assessment of global and local overshoot, the extent to which humanity's Footprint, or demand for ecosystem resources, exceeds biocapacity, the planet's ability to regenerate these resources. This overshoot means ecosystem stocks are being liquidated, and untreated wastes are accumulating in the biosphere. While it is not known precisely how long various ecosystems can tolerate this growing ecological debt, this growing pressure will eventually contribute to ecosystem degradation or failure.

The regional or national ecological footprint is the area of productive biosphere required to provide all of the biological resources which a region's or nation's population consumes and to absorb the wastes it generates, using prevailing technologies and resource management.

National ecological footprint accounting provides a number of key indicators such as the Footprint of consumption, the Footprint of production, or the biocapacity of a nation. Hence it can provide assessments of aspects such as (1) Europe's demands on land and sea area within its own borders, (2) Europe's demands for land and sea area outside its borders, and (3) Europe's demand on specific ecosystem types. Although the aggregate consumption of European households of material resources is more than double the available biocapacity within Europe, Europe's domestic extraction of biological resources is still below Europe's total biocapacity and has stayed at about the same level in recent years.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

The 'ecological footprint of European countries' (i.e., the consumption footprint) directly measures Europe's resource use compared to what is available globally. In other words, it shows to what extent the level of consumption is replicable on a global scale. It can also measure local extraction rates. This means the accounts can provide information about global and local sustainability.


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Methodology for indicator calculation

The ecological footprint uses a common standardised measurement unit, global hectares, to make results comparable globally and across scales. A global hectare is a hectare of biologically productive area with the world average productivity for a given year. Hectares of productive area are converted into global hectares by weighting each area in proportion to its potential productivity of useful biomass (that is potential annual production of useful biological resources).

The ecological footprint calculated for each country includes the biological resources and wastes embodied within goods and services that are consumed by people living in that country. Resources consumed for the production of goods and services exported to another country are added to the country where the goods and services are consumed, and not to the country where they are produced.

The methodology of ecological footprint accounts builds on six assumptions:

1. The annual amounts of biological resources consumed and wastes generated by countries are tracked by national and international organisations.

2. The quantity of biological resources appropriated for human use is directly related to the amount of bioproductive land area necessary for their regeneration and for the assimilation of wastes.

3. By weighting each area in proportion to its usable biomass productivity (that is, its potential annual production of usable biomass), the different areas can be expressed in terms of a standardised average productive hectare (a global hectare).

4. The overall demand in global hectares can be aggregated by adding all mutually exclusive resource-providing and waste-assimilating areas required to support the demand.

5. Aggregated human demand (ecological footprint) and nature's supply (biocapacity) can be directly compared to each other.

6. Area demand can exceed area supply.

More detailed description of the methodology can be found in 'National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts 2005: The underlying calculation method'

The method continues to be further developed, under the scientific guidance of the national accounts committee of Global Footprint Network.

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


Several important aspects of sustainable use/management are not being measured by the ecological footprint:

  • Non-ecological aspects of sustainability. Having a Footprint smaller than the biosphere is a necessary minimum condition for a sustainable society, but is not sufficient. For instance, although social well-being also needs to be considered, the Footprint does not do this.
  • Depletion of non-renewable resources. The Footprint does not track the amount of non-renewable resource stocks, such as oil, natural gas, coal or metal deposits. The Footprint associated with these materials is based on the regenerative capacity used or compromised by their extraction and, in the case of fossil fuels, the area required to assimilate the wastes they generate.
  • Inherently unsustainable activities. Activities that are inherently unsustainable, such as the release of heavy metals, radioactive materials and persistent synthetic compounds (e.g. chlordane, PCBs, CFCs, PVCs, dioxins, etc.) do not enter directly into Footprint calculations. Where these substances cause a loss of biocapacity, however, their influence can be seen.
  • Ecological degradation. The Footprint does not directly measure ecological degradation, such as increased soil salinity from irrigation, which could affect future bioproductivity. However, if degradation leads to reductions in biological productivity, then this loss is captured when measuring biocapacity in the future. Also, when only looking at the aggregate number, 'underexploitation' in one area (e.g. forests) can hide overexploitation in another area (e.g. fisheries).
  • Resilience of ecosystems. Footprint accounts do not identify where and in what way the capacity of ecosystems are vulnerable or resilient. The Footprint is merely an outcome measure documenting how much of the biosphere is being used compared with how productive it is.


Humanity's ecological footprint was chosen as one of the CBD indicators.

The ecological footprint of European countries may show both aggregated figures of regional Footprints as well as breakdown by ecosystem types, or by specific materials. It can also show the distribution of biocapacity.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

Work description

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT Improvements in the methodology for calculating the ecological footprint, in data collection and management, and in application and communication of the indicator at regional and national scales will increase the value of the metric as an indicator for monitoring progress towards the 2010 target. A full description of twenty-five research topics for ecological footprint accounts can be found in 'A Research Agenda for Improving National Ecological Footprint Accounts' (Kitzes et al.). Presented to the International Ecological Footprint Conference - Stepping up the Pace: New Developments in Ecological Footprint Methodology, Policy and Practice, 8-10 May 2007, Cardiff, and in preparation for publication.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


Not started


2099/01/01 00:00:00 GMT+1

Work description

COSTS RELATED TO DEVELOPING, PRODUCING AND UPDATING THE INDICATOR (as available) To update all 27 countries of Europe based on the global data would take the equivalent of 3–4 person days so costs are very limited.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


Not started


2099/01/01 00:00:00 GMT+1

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
SEBI 023
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Biodiversity Biodiversity


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DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Geographic coverage


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