The Countries With the 10 Biggest Ecological Footprints Per Person

Receive $50 off an eligible $100 purchase at the Outside Shop, where you’ll find a selection of brand-name products curated by our gear editors, when you sign up for Outside+ today.

Click on the image for a larger graphic.

In what may be no surprise to anyone, the ecological footprint of humans on earth has continued to increase over the last half century. As the population has increased, so has the amount of land and resources needed to fulfill humanity's needs and handle its waste. As incomes have risen, so too has the demand for additional resources. The ecological footprint is a measure of the total land and/or fishing grounds needed to satisfy people's activities. In its 2012 Living Planet Report, the The World Wildlife Fund has graphed and mapped the per capita ecological footprint by country—using numbers calculated by the Global Footprint Network.

The ecological footprint is measured in terms of carbon land (grey), cropland (yellow), grazing land (green), forest (dark green), built-up land (orange), and fishing grounds (blue). Water use is not measured, but it is quantified and graphed later in the report. The carbon component takes up more than half (55 percent) of the resources tracked. More than a quarter of the countries have indexes in which carbon represents more than half of their total ecological footprint.

The countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person are:
1) Qatar
2) Kuwait
3) United Arab Emirates
4) Denmark
5) United States
6) Belgium
7) Australia
8) Canada
9) Netherlands
10) Ireland

The 10 countries with the smallest ecological footprint per person are:
1) Occupied Palestinean Territory
2) Timor Leste
3) Afghanistan
4) Haiti
5) Eritrea
6) Bangladesh
7) Rwanda
8) Pakistan
9) Democratic Republic of Congo
10) Nepal

The numbers in the report come from 1961 to 2008 and are measured using a term called global hectare (gha), which represents a hectare of land and water with average global productivity. The World Wildlife Fund says that in 2008 the world's total biocapacity was 12 billion gha. Humanity used 18.2 billion gha in resources, meaning it would take a year and a half for people to regenerate the amount of resources used in a year.

Click on the image for a larger graphic.

The above graphic shows the difference in per capita footprint between 1961 and 2008. While the Middle East/Central Asia and European Union had countries whose per capita footprints increased the most, North Americans maintained the highest regional footprint. People in high-income countries have much greater ecological footprints than both middle- and low-income countries. If everyone in the world used the same amount of resources as citizens of the United States, the World Wildlife Network points out that “a total of four earths would be required to regenerate humanity's demand on nature.”

Want to calculate your own ecological footprint to see where you fall in the global scene? Take this quiz. After you find out your result, there will be suggestions on how to decrease your footprint.

You can download the full 2012 Living Planet report here.

—Joe Spring

promo logo