Just recently we were preparing some presentation slides for the EARTH OVERSHOOT DAY event on the topic ‘Overshooting Earth: Solutions and Strategies in the Indian Context’. I came across some interesting findings connected to the ‘TANTRA’ which I started pondering over from the days of my PhD dissertation. I included this in our paper at GLOBALSUMMIT LONDON 2012 too.

I believe in Environment and Development hand-in-hand and started meditating over as soon as I finished my environment-related post-graduation thesis in 1988. My PhD dissertation was follow-up research of UNDP and Global Footprint Network(GFN) and I am grateful to the eminent personalities- Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen-who formed the concepts and calculations of the Human Development Index(HDI). Health, education and income are constituent components of HDI calculations of UNDP. Later in 2010 UNDP included the inequality dimension also to assess the real HDI which is known as IHDI(inequality-adjusted human development index). I also highly appreciate the efforts being done by GFN, the international environmental think tank and research centre led by Dr Mathis Wackernagel who has been publishing National Footprint Accounts(NFA) based on UN data which comprises Ecological Footprint (EFp)and Bio-capacity(Bc) calculations.

A very interesting idea which I have noticed is that Dr Mathis incorporated the productivity of the land compared to the global average productivity in global hectares(gha). My State, Kerala in India, is synonymous for the scattered settlement pattern, often disturbs the ecosystems. Under-productivity and mal-functioning of ecosystems due to irresponsible human activities can be rightly accounted for with this ‘global hectare idea’. Many international agencies lauded the Kerala development model with high human development with low per capita income. KERALA’S COVID 19 management too is lauded by the World, but the real picture of the State presently, which is quite displeasing, is a miniature version of what is happening to the State in the long run. The inherited Kerala model of development itself is to be interfered with and corrected to achieve better results based on innovations turning to corrective policies, programs and projects.

The logical ‘tantra’ for the World and my Country is “BIOCAPACITY TRADING IN LIEU OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT BASED ON EE&CC’’ what is it exactly?

Constituent components of EE&CC theories are as follows:

1.human development index(HDI)

2.Inequality-adjusted human development index(IHDI)

3.Ecological Footprint in global hectares(EFp)

4.Biological capacity of the earth in global hectares(Bc)

The terms Environmental Efficiency and Carrying Capacity are novel ideas introduced in my PhD dissertation. Environmental Efficiency(EE) is considered as the efficiency of humans or any human system on the principles of Output/Input approach. Yes like machines in Mechanical Engineering humans/ systems involving humans also have the efficiency which determines the viability and sustainability. The human systems can be world, nations, states, metropolitan regions, cities, communities and families. The biocapacity of the Earth(Bc) in relation to the consumption (EFp) can be considered as the Carrying Capacity(CC) of the mother EARTH.

Where India Stands?

Tabulations done by the Centre for Environmental Efficiency based on UNDP data of 2019 to know where India stands is as below.

The following are the observations:

1.As human development increases inequality reduces.

2.India’s standard of living and human development have not reached the level of an average world citizen.

3.India can gain substantial elevation in HDI rank if the inequality dimension is focussed.

4.Income component of human development is very high for developed countries.

Improvisations of EE&CC Theories

This Public Trust Centre for Environmental Efficiency is constituted in the year 2013 to continue the research and development based on EE&CC theories. Subsequently, the term Environmental Efficiency(EE) is improvised as ‘may value’ which incorporates the inequality dimension also in the Environmental Efficiency calculations. Inequality-adjusted by EE represented as ‘may value’ is a comprehensive index that comprises inequality-adjusted health/ education/income attainment as numerators which are perfectly in line with the UNDP research updates in the year 2010. The ecological footprint in global hectares is incorporated as the denominator. The denominator ecological footprint comprises of land in global hectares utilised mainly for food, travel, clothing and shelter. The pasture land, cropland, fishing land, built-up area and forest land required for forest products/ sequestration of CO2 due to human activities are the constituent components of the ecological footprint. In short, on supply-side biocapacity and demand-side ecological footprint are the figures, as reported by the Global Footprint Network.

Ecologically, humanity is running on deficit budgeting which is also known as overshooting. Instead of the terms “EARTH OVERSHOOT DAY” as coined by Andrew Simms of New Economic Foundation, “WORLD OVERSHOOT DAY” is more appropriate as the world is overshooting and the EARTH is suffering. Overloading of MOTHER EARTH beyond the regenerative capacity reflects in the form of natural disasters, climate change and pandemics. As per the calculations of the Global Footprint Network humanity’s consumption is 70% over EARTH’s regenerative capacity. Presently we need 1.7 EARTHs to feed and clean the irresponsible consumption and production trends.

Centre for Environmental Efficiency introduced ‘ton value’ (Bc/EFp-1) to make the overshooting phenomenon understandable to the common man depending on whether the ‘ton value’ is positive or negative. Presently the ‘ton value’ of the EARTH is highly negative as the biocapacity of the earth is less compared to the ecological footprint.To ensure sustainability ‘ton value’ should be positive

Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity balance

Earth Overshoot day, spearheaded by the Global Footprint Network is calculated as Bc/EFp multiplied by 365 representing the number of days in a year. This year it was on July 29. Indian Peninsula where I belong to and houses around 1.3 billion people, the Overshoot Day of the Country is much ahead of the global figures which falls on May 1st, as per the calculations made by Centre for Environmental Efficiency based on the published figures of the Global Footprint Network. At the same time if everyone on the earth is living like an Indian we need only 0.7 earth against the global average of 1.7 earth. Global Footprint Network refrained from calculating India’s Overshoot Day. India has not so far attained the expected standard of living and its development indicators are more skewed towards the least developed countries.

Brunt of Climate Change can be serious for India

The situation can become worse as Indian Peninsula can be at the receiving end as global heat is reported to be accumulated in the Indian Ocean.Being at the Southern-most tip of Indian Peninsula my state and neighbouring states are getting vagaries of weather which often result in floods, landslides, coastal erosions and cyclones.

Study Reported by the Guardian

Biocapacity Trading in lieu of Human Development explained in detail

Researchers, academicians and policymakers are familiar with carbon trading introduced by UNFCCC. Carbon Trading is the process of buying and selling permits and credits that allow the permit holder to emit carbon dioxide which is reported as ‘designed to fail’. Instead of carbon trading why not biocapacity trading on the great principle that everybody living on this earth have ‘biocapacity rights’ which can be calculated as the total biocapacity of the earth by the total population. As per the Global Footprint Calculations, the biocapacity of the earth is 1.6 global hectares/person. But the ecological footprint differs from nation to nation. Some nations are living with a very high ecological footprint that exceeds their national/global biocapacity rights and thus they are borrowing biocapacity rights of under-developed nations and our future generations. The world is running on intra-generational and inter-generational imbalances which are to be corrected to attain sustainable development. Biocapacity trading in lieu of human development can be practised from the global level to the individual level. This is the real GLOBAL TO LOCAL ‘TANTRA’ envisaged by the world nations at Rio-Summit in the year 1992. This is by trading ‘biocapacity rights’ and ‘human development’ is given in lieu in terms of health, education and income with minimum inequality.

To elaborate the biocapacity trading for the ‘EARTH OVERSHOOT DAY talk’ I brought out some interesting figures which can awaken the World Nations to deliberate on this proposal more so, when all eyes of the world nations are turned towards the coming up COP26 GLASGOW UK.

I took the screenshot of page 38 of my published thesis report which has the scatter diagram of world nations with HDI on the X-axis and EFpI (normalised figure of EFp) on the Y-axis. A curvilinear relationship between HDI and EFpI of nations are noticed with a horizontal portion comprising the trend of less developed countries, a slanting portion in which human development is proportional to the ecological footprint and a vertical portion comprising the trend of highly developed countries. The highly developed countries’ trend is with high ecological footprint with high and stagnant values of human development. The horizontal portion of the graph is coloured as grey, the slanting portion as green and the vertical portion as red. HD versus EFpI, countries can be divided into three types red, green and grey zone countries.

Hypothetical diagram explaining future sustainable earth based on EE&CC theories

Compared to the biocapacity rights of the average world citizen, grey zone countries are having excess biocapacity as they are not utilising their biocapacity. They are not reaching the potential human development in comparison to their biocapacity rights. Grey zone countries are having less human development in terms of health, education and income. Comparing with the IHDI figures it is seen that grey zone countries are having more inequality while red zone countries are having less inequality. Hence to achieve a sustainable EARTH, red zone countries shall raise their hands to uplift the grey zone countries. Red zone countries can buy the excess biocapacity rights from grey zone countries. This is the real trade between nature and development. This is not a charity extended to grey zone countries but an ETHICAL TRADE to achieve the balanced EARTH. Once this trading is implemented red zone countries as well as grey zone countries, enter the green zone in a circular pattern. It can be achieved with EE&CC yardsticks in which the circular economy is embedded. EE&CC theories and their improvisations can effectively be used to formulate trading platforms to be initiated by UNFCCC, plugging all loopholes. Nine stitches can save many stitches to redeem this ruined world……

Dr May Mathew,

Author Trustee



Centre for Environmental Efficiency

Public trust dedicated to bring the environment and development hand in hand through environmental efficiency and carrying capacity theories. By Dr May Mathew