Initiatives: Information

James P. Leapes

James P. Leape, Director General, WWF International

James Leape has worked in nature conservation for more than 25 years. He began his career as an environmental lawyer, working on environmental protection cases in the United States, advising the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and co-authoring a leading American text on environmental law. Leape joined WWF-US in 1989 and for 10 years directed its international conservation programs, serving as Executive Vice-President. He has been Director General of WWF-International since 2005.

Swiss Footprint

Switzerland enshrined the goal of sustainable development in its Federal Constitution in 1999, followed by development of a «Sustainable Development Strategy 2002» and a system to monitor sustainable development (MONET) using 120 social, economic and environmental indicators. Matching its measurements to the newer concept, it found Switzerland's ecological footprint currently measures 4.7 global hectares per person, whereas its biological capacity is just 1.6 global hectares per capital - a deficit ratio of 3:1. Switzerland's footprint has more than doubled since the 1960s, a reflection of the country's increasing need to import natural resources to meet consumption, and to export waste materials such as carbon dioxide. Energy accounts for 2/3 of the footprint, more than all other factors.

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WWF Living Planet Report

Living beyond our means

WWF-International has been linked to business since its beginnings in 1961 and for years has worked with a variety of national and international organizations to promote the principles of sustainable living. Lately its message has become even more urgent.

They say we never know what we have until it's gone. For those of us who live in Switzerland, surrounded by nature and its alpine magnificence, milder winters and melting glaciers are alarming illustrations of our warming world. The snow and ice that help make Swiss life so special are vanishing before our eyes. We must act before they are gone.

Never have we had greater clarity about the need for change. The reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Stern Review in the UK, and WWF's own Living Planet Report all throw into sharp focus the consequences if we fail to reduce humanity's impact upon the planet.

The IPCC holds us all responsible for the heating of our planet, and the Stern Review for the first time details the economic cost of failing to act on climate change. Our 2006 Living Planet Report sets out the consequences of high-consumption lifestyles that have us living beyond the natural world's means.

WWF has produced the Living Planet Report every two years since 1998. Its aim is to measure the health of the natural world and our impact upon it. And lately the results have not been good.

The last report - produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the California-based Global Footprint Network - highlights a rapid and continuing loss of biodiversity, showing an overall decline of about 30% over a 33-year period.

When it comes to our ecological footprint - our impact upon the Earth - Switzerland has the 16th highest in the world, the 10th highest in Europe. If everyone in the world lived as we do in Europe we would need more than two planets to meet our need for natural resources. By importing goods and services from far and wide we spread our footprint, and thus our responsibility for lightening its impact, around the world.

The Living Planet Report shows that humanity's footprint tripled between 1961 and 2003. The biggest contributor is the way in which we generate and use energy. Our reliance on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs continues to grow. Climate changing emissions now make up 48% - almost half - of our footprint.

For the first time, last year's Living Planet Report compared countries' footprints with the United Nations' Human Development Index. From that analysis it can clearly be seen that what the world accepts as «high development» is nowhere near «sustainable» development. As countries improve the well-being of their people, they bypass the goal of sustainability and this will eventually limit the ability of poor countries to develop, and of rich countries to maintain their prosperity.

If we are serious about living sustainably - and we must be - we need to re-think our concept of development, or risk leaving future generations with a vastly different and depleted world.

Industrialized countries will need to embrace carbon-neutral, renewable sources of energy to meet future demands. They must make sure that they are building power plants, homes and cars that free us from the grip of fossil fuel reliance and work to curb emissions.

In Switzerland, where WWF has been working since 1961, the effects of climate change can be seen and measured. Glaciers through the Alps are losing one percent of their mass each year, and at that rate will be gone by the end of the century. In Andermatt, the ski resort has wrapped the Gurschen Glacier in a shade blanket in a bid to slow its retreat. Long term, this will not be enough.

The time has come for tough decisions, for bold action by governments and the private sector. WWF regularly engages with both, working together to find solutions to problems that affect us all. The Swiss government has followed up the 2006 Living Planet Report with a national study of its ecological footprint and several actions.

Twelve major corporations - including Swiss-based Tetra Pak in its Swedish operations - have joined WWF's Climate Savers program, implementing measures that will eliminate millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. At www.footprint.ch, visitors can calculate their personal ecological footprint through an interactive web project hosted by WWF-Switzerland and sponsored by the City of Zurich's electricity supplier EWZ. The facility has already been used by some 280,000 people.

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