São Paulo State and City calculate their Ecological Footprints



26 Abril 2012  | 
Signing of the cooperation between WWF-Brazil, the city and the State of Sao Paulo to develop the calculation of the Ecological Footprint.
© SMA/José JorgeEnlarge
Geralda Magela
From São Paulo, Brazil

The population of São Paulo is about to receive an important environmental management tool. This Friday (April 20) WWF-Brazil, the São Paulo city authority and the State Government signed a term of cooperation to undertake the calculation of the Ecological Footprint of the entire state. The result of this work will greatly assist public planning and administration, help to mobilise people to reconsider their consumer habits and stimulate companies to improve their production chains.

The Ecological Footprint calculation is a means of delineating the trail that we leave on the planet because of our consumer habits. It is a kind of environmental accounting tool that assesses the pressure human consumption puts on the planet’s natural resources. The calculation has already been carried out for some countries and it is now being made for cities as well.

Last year, in an ample partnership arrangement with the municipal authorities and many local partners, WWF-Brazil undertook studies to calculate the Footprint of the city of Campo Grande, capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and the first Brazilian City to make this calculation. The experience of that state capital aroused São Paulo’s interest and construction of the partnership began.

In São Paulo the work is being carried out in collaboration with the state and city authorities with the support of the Ecossistemas organisation and the Global Footprint Network (GFN). In turn, the Economic Research Institute Foundation (FIPE) is providing support by supplying data from the Family Budget Survey (POF).

The term of cooperation was signed today but data gathering has been under way for some time. WWF-Brasil and its partners hope to have the calculation concluded in time to present it at the Rio +20 conference in June. According to WWF-Brasil’s CEO Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito, the Ecological Footprint will be one of the banners the NGO will be defending at the Conference. “The countries need to commit themselves to measuring their Ecological Footprints”, she declared.

In her view the countries cannot consider their GNPs alone when evaluating growth. What is important is that growth should be sustainable. “The Ecological Footprint sets out in number form how much of our natural resources we are spending and what we must do to reduce these impacts. We want this footprint index to become part of national accounting systems”, she explained. According to Maria Cecilia, the calculation is highly important in city planning because it identifies mitigating actions that can be carried out and there are great expectations surrounding the work that is now beginning in São Paulo.

São Paulo is the biggest city in Latin America with a population of 10.8 million according to the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute – IBGE. However if the 38 municipalities that make up the greater São Paulo metropolitan region are included, the population figure jumps to around 19 million inhabitants, almost the same as the population of Chile.

The state of São Paulo, in turn, has 42 million inhabitants and is the biggest consumer market in Brazil. The state is responsible for 47% of Brazil’s vehicle and engine production and concentrates 33% of the Brazilian GNP. That makes the calculation work a tremendous challenge, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. Both state government and city authorities have high hopes for the outcome.

The head of the capital city’s environment department Eduardo Jorge stressed that the Ecological Footprint identifies elements that are important for re-thinking current urban and national models. In his view, the footprint methodology will foster a dialogue between the municipal and state governments and shed a different light on the city’s relations with the environment. “People will be able to see what they are doing and the way their actions are creating an impact on the environment. Raising awareness leads the way to action” said the head of the department.

Head of the Government of the State of São Paulo’s Department of the Environment Bruno Covas recalled that the city of São Paulo is the third Brazilian city to undertake this calculation and São Paulo state is the first state to do so (the first ones were Campo Grande and Curitiba). “We are happy to undertake this work and we fully believe that it will deliver some extremely useful information. It is the starting point for new initiatives and an important index that will enable us to create and implement public policies that will guarantee the conservation of our natural resources”, he enthused.

WWF-Brazil’s Cerrado Pantanal Programme coordinator Michael Becker, who is leading this work with the Footprint, stated that the partnership arrangement with the São Paulo state and municipal governments is a very positive sign for other cities to observe. In Becker’s view, it will show consumers, the authorities and companies alike, new pathways to follow. “It is a way of re-thinking consumer patterns”, he insisted.

However, he also pointed out that although the footprint calculation is an important stage, it is actually just the first step of a much longer process. “We have a long way ahead of us. It is an important step forward on a long journey”, he declared.

Once the results have been obtained it will be necessary to mobilise the general public, the universities, companies, corporations and civil society organisations in São Paulo in the search for solutions to reduce the impacts of those habits and activities and contribute towards an improved environmental performance in the city and the state, in a bid to reduce the size of the Ecological Footprint.

About the Ecological Footprint

A country, city or individual’s ecological footprint corresponds to the size of the productive areas of land and sea that is necessary to produce and sustain a given way of life. It is a way of translating into hectares the expanse of territory that a person or an entire society ‘uses’ on average, to sustain its eating, housing, mobility, leisure and consumption patterns, among others.

The Ecological Footprint is a kind of environmental balance sheet that assesses the pressure human populations put on natural resources. It is always expressed in global hectares (gha) so that different consumer patterns can be compared and it is possible to detect whether they are compatible with the planet’s ecological capacity or not. A global hectare is one hectare of average global productivity per year considering all the productive land and water on earth. Bio-capacity represents the ecosystems’ capacity to produce renewable natural resources for human consumption and to absorb all the residues produced by human activities.

Ecological Footprint is not a high precision measurement but an estimate. For footprint calculation purposes, studies of various kinds of productive territories (cropland, pastures, oceans, forests, built-up areas) have to be undertaken and, also, of the various forms of consumption (eating, housing, energy, goods and services, transport, and others). The technology involved, population sizes, and other data are also included in the calculation.

Each type of consumption is converted into an area expressed in hectares using a specific conversion table. It is also necessary to take into account the areas used to absorb the waste and residues generated and to set aside a certain amount of land and water for Nature itself; in other words for world’s plants and animals and the ecosystems they live in, thereby ensuring the maintenance of biodiversity.

SOME FIGURES FOR THE STATE OF SÃO PAULO

3% of Brazilian territory - 248 thousand km²
42 million inhabitants, Brazil’s biggest consumer market
33% of the Brazilian GNP
38% of the Industrial Transformation Value
26% of Brazilian exports
47% of Brazilian vehicle production
77% of the national orange crop
The country’s largest and most diversified industrial park.
Over 32% and 43% participation in national revenues from trade and services sectors, respectively.
Largest container terminal in Latin America responsible for 25% of the Brazilian trade flow.

Signing of the cooperation between WWF-Brazil, the city and the State of Sao Paulo to develop the calculation of the Ecological Footprint.
© SMA/José Jorge Enlarge