While conventional economic statistics show that many advanced high-income countries are economically prosperous and enjoy positive trade and current account balances, ecological footprint analysis shows that such regions are running massive ecological deficits with the rest of the world.
Although extremely complex to apply, ecological footprint analysis is useful as it measures the total area of land needed to produce all of the resources consumed by the population of a specific geographic unit (e.g., a city or country) and assimilate the wastes discharged by that population.
Almost 3 000 million people, about half of the world's population, live in urban areas and about 160 000 more join them every day. Cities affect far more than the areas they occupy: their 'ecological footprints' can be enormous because of their huge demands for energy, food and other resources, and the regional and global impacts of their wastes and emissions to soil, air and water. London's ecological footprint, for example, considering only its consumption of food and forest products, and the area needed to assimilate its emissions of carbon dioxide, is calculated to be 125 times greater than the area of the city itself (IIED 1995).
The European Biodiversity Strategy considers the footprint of EU policies and instruments on biodiversity in third countries and calls for mainstreaming "biodiversity objectives into EU development and economic co-operation strategies and policy dialogue with developing countries and economies in transition".
Three main driving forces within the current global order increase the likelihood of footprints being created: trade politics (liberalization, dumping), financial flows (reverse flow of aid etc.), and business practice (transnational corporations, dumping of subsidized production etc.). Increasing economic globalization will tend to reinforce these pressures; indeed, a country's external footprint could be seen to be proportional to the degree of its integration in the world economy.