Uncertainty in Ecological Footprint standard method accounts

Sigurður Eyberg Jóhannesson

Research output: Types of ThesisPh.D. Thesis


The call for a sustainable development of human societies is becoming ever louder. The term sustainability has as a result become thoroughly incorporated into everyday speech, not least among politicians. For the term to hold any meaning some quantitative definitions are needed. We need to know what is sustainable and what isn’t. This is where sustainability gets complicated. Being able to clearly define what is sustainable and what isn’t is notoriously difficult – not least in a world with very complex globalized trade systems. To tackle this problem the UN called for the creation of sustainability indicators in the early nineties. These indicators were supposed to give an indication of what is sustainable and what isn’t and thus aid us in creating the much-coveted sustainable world. In the following years many such indicators were created – among them the Ecological Footprint (EF). EF has been called by some academics “extremely successful” but has at the same time had its fair share of criticism. The aim of this dissertation was to examine EF from the standpoint of uncertainty in input parameters. To do this a single case study method was utilized by focusing on the extreme case of Iceland – an outlier in Ecological Footprint accounts under the defined standard method. The most sensitive areas for the case were identified as the Marine and Carbon footprints, and a deep dive performed on each of the two areas. The work was published in three separate academic papers appearing in peer reviewed academic journals. The results indicate that major uncertainties are involved in EF accounting under the standard method. Their sources are identified as uncertainty in input data, lack of knowledge of natural systems and aggregation and use of averages. Six mitigation measures are suggested to meet these challenges. Regardless, this uncertainty makes the EF vulnerable to abuse and misleading information and it is therefore imperative to always give clear indications of uncertainty levels when publishing such results. Under such conditions science can quickly become tainted and thus great care must be taken not to mix scientific endeavours with political agendas or activism of any kind.
Original languageEnglish
Print ISBNs978-9935-9579-3-1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Other keywords

  • Ecological Footprint
  • Environment
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability indicators
  • Uncertainty
  • Vistspor
  • Umhverfisfræði
  • Sjálfbærni
  • Óvissa
  • Doktorsritgerðir


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