If the rest of the world lived the lifestyle led by the average Australian, it would take almost four planets to sustain us, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.
Australia was eighth in a list of 152 countries in the biennial Living Planet Report which ranked their destruction of the world’s natural resources.
Australia improved its ranking slightly over the past two years, falling from fifth to eighth in the world’s most unsustainable nations, but the report said 3.8 planets would still be required to support the world’s population if everyone lived like the average Australian.
The report measures the amount of natural resources needed to sustain each person’s lifestyle, or ecological footprint, which is expressed in units called global hectares (gha).
For Australians, 6.8 gha per person is needed each year to sustain our lifestyles, thanks largely to our carbon emissions and grazing footprint.
This compares to 8 gha for those in the United States, 4.9 gha for United Kingdom residents and 2.2 gha for people living in China.
The nation with the largest ecological footprint is the United Arab Emirates at 10.7 gha per person.
The report found that mankind’s demand on the planet’s natural resources has doubled since 1966 and we’re currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities.
It said carbon pollution is a major culprit in driving the planet into ecological overdraft.
WWF Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman says the federal government must put a price on carbon pollution.
“This is the most economically efficient and environmentally effective way of reducing Australia’s emissions,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“Business and individuals also have a role to play in lessening our impact on the environment.
“We must reconsider our choices concerning energy efficiency, transport, food, electrical products, living and office space and disposal of waste.”
Demographer and social commentator Bernard Salt wonders if the report took into account the size of Australia and the spread of its population.
“I’m not disputing the figures but I wonder if there isn’t a factor reflecting the nature of the continent – it’s a big open country with transportation costs between places expensive in terms of fossil fuel,” Mr Salt told AAP.
“The report is a helpful reminder that we need to be more efficient but we do need to view these figures in their proper context.”