Study finds wealthy nations responsible for 74% of global ecological damage

Researchers quantify national responsibility for ecological breakdown across 160 countries over the past 50 years

A study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, co-authored by the DEAL Team's Andrew Fanning with Jason Hickel, Dan O'Neill, and Huzaifa Zoomkawala, has found that high-income countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, bear the overwhelming responsibility for global ecological breakdown.

In the report, entitled 'National responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use', the research team analyses 160 countries and quantifies how much responsibility each country bears for the ecological damage caused by excess use of materials -  such as metals, minerals, fossil fuels and biomass -  between 1970 and 2017. 

The analysis is underpinned by a core concept shared with the Doughnut, namely that the planet’s resources and ecosystems are a commons – a natural shared wealth –  and that all people are entitled to a fair share within sustainable levels. 

The researchers found that high-income countries, which represent only 16% of the world's population, are responsible for 74% of cumulative resource overshoot worldwide, driven primarily by the USA (27%) and the EU-28 high-income countries (25%). These countries urgently need to reduce their levels of resource use — by over 70 per cent — to avoid further degradation and to live within their fair shares. 

China is responsible for 15% of global resource overshoot, and the rest of the Global South (i.e. the low-income and middle-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) is responsible for only 8%.

Want to see how your country compares? In the spirit of reciprocity and enriching the commons, Andrew has created a set of interactive charts visualising country-level results from this study below (also hosted at the interactive website he maintains at with data available to download and alongside more doughnut-related visualisations - do dive in!).

Explore and compare national resource use with respect to fair shares by selecting a country/region from the drop-down menus below, and hover/tap within the charts to see indicator-specific values for that year.

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Photo credit: Matthew de Livera on Unsplash




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