China Has Ecological Deficit – Report

China has run an ecological deficit since the mid-1970s, demanding more
biological capacity than its own ecosystems can provide each year, according to a new report to be released next week.

While the average resident of China today consumes relatively few
natural resources, the country as a whole now demands more from the
planet than any nation except the United States, according to Global Footprint Network, WWF China, and CCICED (China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development), a Chinese government advisory group.

Their report, titled "China: Ecological Footprint and Human Wellbeing" highlights the crucial role China will play in determining whether humanity can meet the major resource challenges it faces in the 21st century. It will be presented in Beijing on June 10.

In the last 50 years, China’s population has doubled, and its per-person consumption of resources has also doubled as people have become more affluent. Those changes have greatly increased the pressure China puts on the environment. Since 1961, China has gone from being the world’s 114th-highest user of biological resources to its second-greatest user today, consuming about 15%  of the Earth’s total biological capacity, according to the report.

The report looks at China’s Ecological Footprint, the amount of productive land and sea area it takes to produce what the population consumes and absorb its waste, and how that has changed over time. The report was authored by international experts working in conjunction with local scientists.

"China has traditionally been forward-looking in recognizing that its resource constraints pose a serious potential threat to its long-term progress," said Global Footprint Network Executive Director Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint concept and methodology. "China’s leaders are painfully aware that they can only secure their population’s wellbeing within the reality of what the planet can provide."

The individual Chinese resident has an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 global hectares, below the world average of 2.2. By comparison, the average U.S. resident has an Ecological Footprint of 9.6 global hectares. Yet in 2003, the population of China demanded the equivalent of two Chinas to provide for its consumption and absorb its wastes. Most of this deficit is due to the emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

"If China were to follow the lead of the United States, where each person demands nearly 10 hectares of productive area, China would demand the available capacity of the entire planet," the report states. "This is likely to be a physical impossibility for China, and for the other nations of the world. In contrast, if China can model a new development path that achieves environmental quality, social harmony, and human well-being, it will lead the way for the world as a whole.

The report outlines a dual strategy for reducing China’s Ecological Footprint while still helping secure a good quality of life for its citizens. It involves addressing first both the activities that are cheap and easy to change -such as the use of energy-intensive light bulbs – and those that will have the longest-term effect on resource use, such as investing in resource-efficient infrastructure and compact urban development.

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.

· 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.

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