Assessment of the ecological footprint of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
With documented declines in the biophysical state of the planet, there is an increasing need to develop good environmental management tools to measure sustainability. Some of the traditional environmental management tools that are currently in use, such as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) do not adequately quantify sustainability for large events such as conferences, rock concerts and sporting events. In this research, Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) is considered as a tool for assessing the sustainability of a large event, viz. the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The WSSD, a follow-up to the 1992 United Nations' Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), was held from 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the largest event of its kind in the world, with 80 635 registered' (mostly international) delegates attending. EFA can be considered as a tool to measure sustainability that converts consumption and waste production into units of equivalent land area. Based on the reality of biophysical limits to growth, and presenting. data in an aggregated, quantifiable, yet easily comprehensible form, EFA is also a . useful tool for environmental policy and management. EFA has typically been applied at national and regional levels,as well. as in the assessment of technology. The application of the ecological footprint (EF) concept to a conference is the first of its kind undertaken. The case study shows conferences to be net importers of consumption items and thus dependent on a vast external environment. The EFA highlights those areas of consumption which constitute the largest part of the footprint and thus provides an opportunity for targeting those areas for proactive management. EFA for a conference clearly identifies that a reduced ecological footprint would mean a movement towards strong sustainability. Due to the vast resources consumed during a conference over a short period of time, initial observations and results show that conferences are ecologically unsustainable. In estimating the EF of the WSSD, data were obtained on the following items: carbon emissions from electricity usage for the WSSD by conference venues and accommodation; carbon emissions from air and road transport used by delegates; total water consumed during the WSSD; catchment size required to cater for the volumes of water consumed; carbon emissions from the waste generated; and carbon emissions from volumes of paper used during the WSSD. Data were sourced from various reports and service providers in the Johannesburg area. The total partial EF of the WSSD was the sum of the sub-component footprints of electricity, transport, water, waste and paper. The EF of the WSSD was 2 522.08 ha, comprising an electricity EF of 93.03 ha, transport EF of 1002.86 ha, water EF of 1 406.l4ha, waste EF of 0.45 ha and a paper EF of 19.60 ha. The footprint is 1.72% of the area of Johannesburg and 0.15% of Gauteng, but less than 0.01% the area of South Africa. The per capita EF of the WSSD was 0.03 ha, compared with South Africa's per capita EF of 4.02ha. A number of recommendations are made for the reduction of the EF of large events such as the WSSD, and hence reducing their contribution to environmental degradation. Recommendations include the wider use and application of the EF concept, at the institutional and govemmental level.