AUSTRALIANS have the world's fifth largest ecological footprint — and it is getting bigger.
An international report by conservation group the World Wildlife Fund has found the average Australian uses more land and water than people from all countries bar the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Kuwait and Denmark.
The Living Planet Report 2008 says it takes 7.8 hectares to maintain the lifestyle of each Australian, up 16% from the last report two years ago.
Globally, the report compares the disaster awaiting the planet to the global financial crisis, saying it is heading for an "ecological credit crunch".
It estimates the demands being placed on the Earth are more than a third higher than it can sustain, with a growing number of countries slipping into permanent or seasonal water stress.
"Most of us are propping up our current lifestyles and our economic growth by drawing — and increasingly overdrawing — on the ecological capital of other parts of the world," WWF international director-general James Leape said. "If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles."
WWF Australia chief executive Greg Bourne said the report painted a dire picture for the country, showing wildlife was declining and natural resources were being wasted at an accelerating rate.
Most of Australia's footprint is due to high carbon emissions and poor grazing practices, the report finds.
The nation's water use is above the global average.
"We currently have the technology and capital to turn around our destructive excesses. The real question is: do we have the will?" Mr Bourne said.
Australia has 99 mammal, 108 bird and 53 reptile species under threat because of habitat loss, invasive alien species, over-exploitation and pollution.