What are Global Hectares?

Published on July 18th, 2023 by Brett Knighton

A globe with different productive land and water areas marked out, and footprint symbols to represent the impact of human activities.

A Global Hectare (gha) is a unit of measurement used in the field of environmental science, particularly in the context of ecological footprint analysis. It's based on the standard unit of area measurement, the hectare, which is equal to 10,000 square meters or about 2.47 acres.

However, defining a global hectare isn't just about measuring a piece of land. It represents one hectare of biologically productive land and water with world-average productivity. This means it takes into account the fact that different areas of productive land and water areas around the world have different levels of biological productivity.

For example, a hectare of fertile farmland can produce more crops, livestock, and timber than a hectare of desert or a hectare of city land. It also includes areas that have the ability to absorb waste materials, especially carbon dioxide, such as forests, pastures, cropland, and fisheries.

The concept of a global hectare allows us to normalize these differences and create a standard unit that can be used to compare the biological productivity of different regions. This is crucial when calculating and comparing ecological footprints, which are a measure of how much of the Earth's biological capacity is being used by human activities.

By converting everything to a common unit, global hectares, we can compare ecological footprints even if the actual biological productivity of the land or water being used is different. This helps us understand our impact on the planet and informs decisions about how to live more sustainably.

For example, if one country has a larger ecological footprint than another, it means that the country is using more of the Earth's biological capacity - more global hectares - relative to its population. This could be due to factors like higher consumption, less efficient use of resources, or a larger population.

Now that we understand what a global hectare is, let's examine how this measurement plays out in real-world scenarios.

Global Ecological Footprint by Country

To further illustrate the importance of global hectares and their role in sustainability, let's take a look at some real-world data. Using the data from Statista, if the entire world's population lived like those in the United States, we would need resources equivalent to five times what our Earth can regenerate to satisfy the global demand. This is represented as needing 5.1 Earths.

Statistic: How many Earths would we need if the world's population lived like.. | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

The chart also shows the number of Earths needed if the world's population lived like those in other countries. For example, if everyone lived like the population in Australia, we would need 4.5 Earths. If everyone lived like the population in China, we would need 2.4 Earths. And if everyone lived like the population in India, we would need just 0.8 Earths.

This data highlights the significant differences in resource use and waste generation between different countries. It underscores the importance of using global hectares as a standardized unit to measure and compare the environmental impacts of different countries, and ultimately, to guide efforts towards more sustainable practices worldwide.

Next, let's explore how this measurement can be applied to promote sustainability.

Applications of Global Hectares in Sustainability

1. Policy Making

Governments can use the data from global hectares to formulate policies that aim to reduce their country's ecological footprint. This could involve promoting sustainable practices such as recycling, composting, and waste reduction. Governments could also incentivize businesses to adopt greener practices, for example, by offering tax breaks or subsidies.

Investing in renewable energy is another key area. This could involve funding research into new technologies, building infrastructure for renewable energy sources like wind or solar power, and phasing out fossil fuels. Additionally, governments can implement regulations to protect the environment, such as laws to prevent deforestation, pollution, and overfishing. These policies can help ensure that the country's ecological footprint is reduced, preserving natural resources for future generations.

2. Sustainability Reporting

Companies can use data from global hectares to evaluate the sustainability of their operations. This involves looking at their ecological footprint, which includes factors like energy use, waste production, and resource consumption. If a company finds that its footprint is high, it can implement strategies to reduce it. One such strategy is adopting circular business models, a key component of the circular economy.

In a circular economy, resources are used and reused for as long as possible. The goal is to extract the maximum value from them while they're in use, and then recover and regenerate products and materials when they're no longer needed. This could involve adopting more efficient manufacturing processes, sourcing materials sustainably, or reducing waste through recycling and repurposing. These circular practices not only lower a company's ecological footprint but also show a commitment to sustainability, which can enhance the company's reputation.

Furthermore, circular business models can potentially improve a company's financial performance. For instance, energy-efficient practices and waste reduction can lead to cost savings. Also, companies that follow the principles of the circular economy often attract investment from socially conscious investors, which can further boost their financial performance.

3. Education and Awareness

The concept of global hectares can be used to educate people about the impact of their lifestyle choices on the environment. This could involve teaching about the ecological footprint of different activities, like driving a car, eating meat, or using electricity. By understanding that their choices contribute to the demand on Earth's ecosystems, individuals may be motivated to lower their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable habits, including sustainable transportation methods.

Embracing sustainable transportation, such as choosing public transportation or cycling over driving, is a significant step towards reducing one's ecological footprint. Other changes could include reducing meat consumption or using energy-efficient appliances. Education initiatives promoting these sustainable habits can be carried out in schools, community centers, or through public awareness campaigns.

4. Research

Scientists and researchers can use global hectare data to study trends in resource use and the impact of human activities on the environment. This could involve studying how our dependence on natural resources has evolved over time or comparing the environmental impact of different countries or sectors. This research can contribute to our understanding of major environmental issues like climate change and biodiversity loss.

For example, it can help identify which activities are most damaging to the environment, or which policies are most effective at reducing ecological footprints. This research can then inform policy-making and conservation efforts.

5. Planning and Development

City planners and developers can use global hectare information to design more sustainable and efficient urban spaces. This could involve creating green spaces, which not only provide recreational areas for residents but also help to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce heat in urban areas. Promoting public transportation can reduce the number of private vehicles on the road, thereby reducing emissions and traffic congestion.

Designing energy-efficient buildings can also significantly reduce a city's ecological footprint. This could involve using sustainable materials in construction, installing solar panels, or designing buildings to maximize natural light and heat. These measures can make cities more sustainable and pleasant places to live, while also reducing their impact on the environment.

Additional Details About Global Hectares

  • The average global hectare is equivalent to about 0.445 acres or 0.18 hectares.
  • The world's ecological footprint is currently about 1.7 global hectares per person, which means that we are using more than the Earth's biological capacity to regenerate resources.
  • The largest contributors to the global ecological footprint are agriculture, energy, and transportation.