What is Biocapacity?

The capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb waste materials generated by humans, using current management schemes and extraction technologies.

Biocapacity deficit

The difference between the biocapacity and Ecological Footprint of a region or country. A biocapacity deficit occurs when the Footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population.

Conversely, a biocapacity remainder exists when the biocapacity of a region exceeds its population’s Footprint. If there is a regional or national biocapacity deficit, it means that the region is importing biocapacity through trade or liquidating regional ecological assets.

In contrast, the global biocapacity deficit cannot be compensated through trade, and is therefore equal to overshoot.

Humanity’s Ecological Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity by more than 50 per cent in 2008.

Example Ecological Footprint components rel= © Edward Parker / WWF; Brent Striton / Getty Images/ WWF-UK; National Geographic Stock / Paul Nicklen / WWF-Canada

It takes into account two factors:

1. The area available for:
  • cropland for producing food, fibre and biofuels
  • grazing land for animal products such as meat, milk, leather and wool
  • coastal and inland fishing grounds
  • forests, which both provide wood and can absorb CO2.
2. The productivity of the land
  • measured by how much the crops or trees growing on it yield per hectare.
Both the Ecological Footprint (which represents demand for resources) and biocapacity are expressed in units called global hectares (gha), with 1gha representing the productive capacity of 1ha of land at world average productivity.

Biocapacity is not spread evenly around the world

Over half the world’s biocapacity is found within the borders of just 10 countries

  • Brazil
  • China
  • the United States
  • the Russian Federation
  • India
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Indonesia
  • Argentina
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of