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Global Footprint Network - China Report

Thursday 4 September 2008

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Global Footprint Network - China Report

There are two big challenges facing human society in the new century, the environment and development.
The continuous degradation of the environment has directly affected the very survival and sustainable development of human beings. How to realise a more balanced development of economic growth and environmental protection has become a critical issue that requires China and the whole world to address urgently. Globally, the ecological footprint has been widely used to measure the human demands on nature.
Human consumption of the natural resources has been constantly increasing over the past four decades to result in a growing overshoot of what the Earth can sustainably supply. It has become a premise and an important guideline to understand the world’s and China’s ecological footprints and integrate them into the sustainable development strategies for a holistic planning of environment protection in China.
Sustainable development requires humans to manage their demands on natural resources strictly within the Earth’s capacity to regenerate, which describes the concept of biological capacity. The Report on Ecological Footprint in China expounds the relation between ecological footprint and biological capacity in China, and proposes how to ease the conflicts between them. The suggestions and strategies will play important roles functioning as guidelines for us to measure and improve the environmental status for the realization of sustainable development in China.
It’s a critical period in coming 20 years for China to realize its sustainable development, which is determined by important indicators including the balance between the efficiency of natural resources and the Earth’s regeneration capacity improvement. Therefore, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) has worked with WWF to produce this report on the ecological footprint in China, which we hope, based on researches conducted by experts from home and abroad, will serve its reference accordingly.

The Ecological Footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area needed to meet the demands of a population.
By comparing this demand for area to biocapacity, the amount of biologically productive land and water available within a given region or nation, Ecological Footprint accounts can determine whether a nation, region, or the world as a whole is living within its ecological means. Footprint accounts have been used by governments, businesses, and individuals who wish to better understand the magnitude of their dependence on biological capital and how they might plan strategically in an increasingly resource constrained world.

This report focuses on the Ecological Footprint of China within a global and regional context.
Recent Ecological Footprint studies by Chinese scholars are reviewed, and China’s Ecological Footprint is showcased in detail, including a discussion of the different types of land and water area necessary to meet China’s resource and energy needs. A specific study of selected traded goods shows how the productive areas needed to produce these goods are “traded” with other nations around the world. The report concludes with strategies for managing China’s Ecological Footprint and biological capacity.

The report finds that:

- In 2003, the most recent year data are available, global society demanded 25% more biological capacity than the planet was able to provide. This state of global overshoot will inevitably lead to the degradation of the planet’s biological capital.

- The United States, the European Union, and China represent more than 50% of the world’s total Ecological Footprint and 30% of global available biological capacity. The decisions made by the respective governments and societies will largely determine whether the world is able to meet the sustainable development challenge in the coming century.

- The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world’s population, who demand nearly 40% of the planet’s available biological capacity.

- The calculation of Ecological Footprints in China began soon after the concept was first proposed in the mid-1990s, and has been used by local researchers to evaluate the ecological deficits of different provinces in China as well as the impacts of specific business and household activities.

- Focusing on individual lifestyle, China’s Ecological Footprint in 2003 was 1.6 global hectares per person, the 69th highest country in the world, and lower than the world average Ecological Footprint of 2.2 global hectares per person.

- Despite this low per person consumption, however, China has run an ecological deficit since the mid-1970s, demanding more biological capacity than its own ecosystems can provide each year. In 2003, China demanded the equivalent of two Chinas to provide for its consumption and absorb its wastes. The majority of this deficit is due to emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that are not sequestered.

- China partially covers its deficit by importing biological capacity, in the form of natural resources, from other nations. In 2003, China imported 130 million global hectares from outside its borders, nearly equivalent to the entire biological capacity of Germany.

- China’s Ecological Footprint is connected through trade relations to nearly every country in the world, including many close by and many far away. An analysis of selected traded products suggests that China often imports biocapacity embodied in raw materials from countries such as Canada, Indonesia, and the United States and often exports biocapacity embodied in manufactured products to countries such as South Korea, Japan, the United States, and Australia.

- Three factors control China’s Ecological Footprint: population, consumption per person, and the resource-intensity of consumption. Two complementary approaches for reducing China’s ecological deficit are quickly addressing (1) activities that are easy and cheap to change, such as the use of energy intensive light bulbs, and (2) investments in infrastructure that will have longterm implications for resource use in the future.

- Specific strategies for China to move towards a sustainable future involve the CIRCLE approach: Compact urban development, Individual action, Reducing hidden waste flows, Carbon reduction strategies, Land management, and Efficiency increases.

- by Justin Kitzes, Susannah Buchan, Alessandro Galli, Brad Ewing, Cheng Shengkui, Xie Gaodi, Cao Shuyan
- Countercurrents.org




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