Carbon and ecological footprints for the 21st century

  • Gemma Cranston

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Environmental and carbon footprints have recently come to the fore of the media’s, governmental and general public’s attention. They offer an excellent indication of humanity’s demands upon Nature and allow evaluation of ecological deficit by contrasting supply and demand. The ecological debt many nations find themselves in is unsustainable, globally inequitable and adds to the growing effects of climate change. These footprints need to be further investigated, looking at historic and future trends in order to better understand, not only the global overuse of natural capital, but also the imbalance between nation states of the world. The value and limitations of the footprint must be recognised; the footprint alone cannot represent the full anthropogenic impacts upon the Earth. This thesis focuses on developing the definitions of the ecological and carbon footprints, analysing the significant factors that affect their composition. The selected parameters are diverse, ranging from a host of economic, geographic and climatic factors. It is shown that both the carbon and ecological footprints are primarily driven by economic welfare, a result that reflects the consumptive nature and fundamental basis of the footprint. Analysis of the resultant correlating equations, for both the environmental and carbon footprints, highlights the differences between the developing and industrialised world in terms of their profligate or frugal use of Nature’s resources. This concludes the stark contrast between these regions of the globe in terms of their per capita and total footprint values.The disparity between the populous South and the prosperous North is further investigated to the year 2100, with the use of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios and adaptation of the correlating ecological footprint equation. Four separate scenarios are adopted, each having different underlying assumptions regarding economic development, demographic transition and environmental awareness for various regions of the world. For all scenarios the Southern regions rapidly increase their levels of total ecological footprint; in contrast the industrialised world maintains a relatively conservative evolution. Although different scenarios suggest contrasting future pathways, the hope of contraction and convergence among global footprint levels is not completely lost.The intensification of carbon emissions from both the affluent North and the majority South are considered with respect to population, economic and energy use trends from 1900 to the end of the twenty-first century. It is overwhelmingly shown that affluence will drive growth in carbon emissions across the world by the end of the century.Global inequality must be reduced; the footprint is utilised to demonstrate the trends in resource misuse and contrast between the ecological debtors and ecological creditors of the world.
Date of Award1 Aug 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGeoff Hammond (Supervisor)


  • sustainable development
  • footprint

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