Swiss Overshoot Day is on May 13th; it could be July 24th if Switzerland implemented the Paris goals

While Switzerland sports many innovative initiatives to #MoveTheDate of Swiss Overshoot Day, its overall performance is excessively sluggish, jeopardizing its long-term prosperity.

Zurich, May 10, 2023 – This year, Swiss Overshoot Day falls on May 13th. By then humanity would have used up as much as our planet’s ecosystems can renew in the entire year, if all people consumed at the rate of Swiss residents. It would take the regenerative capacity of nearly 3 Earths to provide that much. To mark that date, highlight possibilities, and warn Switzerland, FiBL, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut, Soil to Soul, #MoveTheDate Switzerland, Swiss Food Research, and Global Footprint Network join forces.

Persistent overshoot has locked us into a future shaped by increasing climate change and resource constraints. This is true in every imaginable scenario. Also, these conditions are approaching faster than our cities, companies, energy infrastructure, and food systems can adjust. There is no benefit in reacting slowly.

Yet, there are many innovative initiatives in Switzerland that address overshoot.  For example:

Despite such efforts, as inspiring as they are, Switzerland’s economy is vastly underprepared for the predictable future of climate change and resource constraints. It continues to use over 4 times more than Swiss ecosystems can renew and remains exposed to resource risks.

If Switzerland followed its original Paris goal of cutting its 1990-emission in half by 2030, Swiss Overshoot Day would move by 72 days to July 24th. Yet sadly, sluggish official efforts are undermining Switzerland’s ability to remain successful in the predictable future of climate change and resource constraints. What holds Switzerland back from embracing resource security?

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More background

Why overshoot matters for the country’s economy

The future has never been more predictable. We know that people will want to eat and sleep. They also want to be mobile, feel safe, and have fun. In addition, it is evident that we will live in a world with increased climate change and growing resource constraints. This is true in every imaginable scenario. Also, this future is approaching faster than our cities, companies, energy infrastructure, and food systems can adjust.

As a result, resource security is turning into a central indicator of economic strength. The lasting war in Ukraine and the resource disruptions it has caused serve as an illustration. The war has demonstrated our fragile dependence on fossil fuel. Massive efforts have helped us decouple from the Russian supply, but our fossil fuel dependence is still enormous. A rapid energy and resource transition will reward the world with less extreme climate change and the actor with a far more reliable resource situation. Just consider that today, Switzerland consumes 4.4 times more than its own ecosystems can regenerate.

Prolonging our fossil fuel dependence increases the risk of being stuck with less useful (and eventually, stranded) assets, global tensions, and political unrest. Food security becomes particularly critical, with direct implications for Switzerland’s globally integrated economy.

Those who delay their energy and resource transition expose themselves to increasingly large and uneven risks. Inequalities grow between those who prepare wisely and build resilience, and those who wait, weakening themselves. Those who fail to embrace change will fall behind. It is a double risk, as they will be fragile in an increasingly fragile world. “It is unclear whether Switzerland has the resolve to prepare itself adequately for the predictable future of climate change and resource constraints. The war in Ukraine may have been a wake-up call, yet at the same time, the political will to truly shift is still small” said Steven Tebbe, CEO of Global Footprint Network. “While good efforts exist in Switzerland, such as boosting the thermal efficiency of houses or using electricity from hydropower, the country overall is still far from being fit for operating in a world resulting from persistent overshoot. The gap continues to be immense.”

Based on 2018 data, the food consumption of Swiss residents alone required the capacity of more than one entire Switzerland. The same amount was needed to maintain Swiss mobility. 77% of the biological resource requirement of the Swiss comes from abroad.

Housing alone occupies about 1/6th of the entire demand. Given its significant position, we have partnered with Eberhard, a construction company, who is pioneering construction waste recycling. Patrick Eberhard, a company board member, emphasizes that “infrastructure has tremendous lock-in effects. For the better or the worse. Therefore, getting construction right is a big piece of the puzzle.”

Cities, companies, or countries that fail to prepare for the foreseeable future will be largely disadvantaged. Acting fast, while also getting it right, will become increasingly essential as the physical infrastructure of cities and companies  are adapting slower than the resource-constrained future is descending upon us. How is Switzerland positioned? What are our options?

The figure above charts the number of Switzerlands needed to support Switzerland’s resident’s annual resource consumption against the number of Earths needed if all people lived like residents of Switzerland.

One thing is obvious. The speed and scale at which Switzerland is transforming its economy erodes Switzerland’s longer-term prospects.

Additional Resources

About Ecological Footprints

The Ecological Footprint is the most comprehensive biological resource accounting metric available. It adds up all of people’s competing demands for biological regeneration. This is achieved by summing all productive areas that provide for what people use– food, timber, fibers, carbon sequestration, and infrastructure. Currently, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel make up 60% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. To comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the carbon footprint needs to be zero before 2050.

About ecological overshoot

Since the early 1970s, humanity has been in an ecological deficit. While Switzerland’s biocapacity per person is 36% smaller than the world’s, its Ecological Footprint per inhabitant is about three times as large. The overload cannot continue forever. The effects of this global ecological overshoot can already be observed in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Running an ecological deficit means that we are not only consuming the annual “interest” on our natural capital, but also depleting it by taking resources from the future to pay for the present. Operating on the ecological advances of future generations is obviously not a successful long-term strategy.

About Global Footprint Network

Global Footprint Network is an international sustainability organisation dedicated to creating a world where all can thrive within the Earth’s means. This includes responding to climate change, biodiversity decline, and unmet human needs. Since 2003 we’ve engaged with more than 30 cities, 50 countries, and 70 global partners to improve their resource security by delivering scientific insights relevant for high-impact policy and investment decisions.

About the Food4Future project

Food4Future is a collaborative project by Global Footprint Network, the Circular Food Systems team within the Farming Systems Ecology group at Wageningen University & Research (, and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). The project aims to explore how to make the food system one-planet compatible by taking us closer to new ways of feeding the world’s population while safeguarding the planet. We do this by combining our scientific prowess with our power to engage key stakeholders and decision-makers. Food4Future is generously supported by the Stiftung AVINA.

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