New Zealanders' love for cars is contributing to our huge ecological footprint, which per person is now ranked sixth largest in the world.
A WWF Living Planet Report released yesterday shows that only the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Kuwait, Denmark and Australia have larger per capita ecological footprints than New Zealand.
The report, regarded as the leading statement on the planet's health, differs from measuring just our carbon footprint by including not just what the country consumes in resources, but how much waste is generated and its impact on the natural environment.
Globally the report showed that more than three-quarters of the world's people now live in nations which are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped a country's biological capacity.
However, because New Zealand has a relatively small population for the country's physical size it is not yet in eco-debt, with a bio-capacity still up to half greater than our footprint.
Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand executive director, said our global consumption was increasing and biodiversity declining.
New Zealand moved from requiring 5.9 global hectares per person in the 2006 report (based on 2003 data) to an average of 7.7 global hectares per person (based on 2005 data).
Mr Howe said a global hectare was a hectare with world-average ability to produce resources and absorb wastes.
Worldwide, the average ecological footprint jumped from 2.2 global hectares per person to 2.7 global hectares per person. The planet could afford just 2.1 global hectares per person and humans were now exceeding the planet's regenerative capacity by about 30 per cent.
Mr Howe said the report warned that if demands on the planet continued at the same rate by the mid-2030s we would need two planets to sustain our lifestyles.
"And if everyone on Earth used resources at the same pace as New Zealanders do we would require over three and a half planets to sustain our way of life."
The report showed the largest human-induced pressure on the planet continued to be carbon emissions from fossil fuel use.
According to the Ministry for the Environment, the principal growth in carbon emissions since 1990 had come from increased carbon dioxide from the energy sector, mainly transport and electricity generation.
Ann Smith, technical manager Landcare Research's carbon zero programme, said there was still a lot New Zealanders could do to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.
She said it was clearly disappointing that New Zealand did so badly in the report, and that was partly due to the big impact of agriculture.
She noted the ecological footprint failed to take into account that 98 per cent of our intensive land was producing food for 53 million people.
"Our agriculture is efficient compared to overseas."
The top 10 nations with largest ecological footprint per capita:
1 United Arab Emirates
2 United States
6 NEW ZEALAND