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The report said that overall changes in consumption patterns and the shift from rural to urban lifestyles were putting more pressure on China’s already threadbare environment — and the implications are global.
If the whole world consumed the same amount of resources as China did in 2007, it would require the equivalent of 1.2 planets, up from 0.8 in 2003, according to calculations in the WWF’s 2010 China Ecological Footprint Report, released on Monday.
In terms of comparison, if the global consumption level reached those of the United States, it would require the equivalent of 4.5 earths, and if they were the same as India, it would only need 0.5 earths, the report said.
“What this report tells us is that China’s ecological footprint is about 20 percent higher than the planet can sustain,” James Leape, director general of WWF International, told Reuters after the report was launched.
“That puts them in the middle of the pack, but obviously on a track that cannot be sustained in the long run.”
China’s footprint — its use of farmlands, forests, fisheries and urban land, as well as its carbon emissions — amounted to 2.2 global hectares (gha) per capita in 2007, higher than the desired per capita biological capacity of just 1.8 gha, but still 40 percent lower than the global average of 2.7 gha.
Though China has successfully improved its biocapacity by boosting crop yields and improving efficiency over the last five decades, consumption is still growing at a much faster rate.
China’s breakneck economic growth has become one of the key issues in ongoing global climate change talks, with Beijing insisting that a new pact should place most of the burden on rich nations and leave growth in the developing world undisturbed.
Chinese officials and academics have accused western critics of hypocrisy, saying not only that its people have a right to prosperity, but also that its spiraling energy and resource use has been caused in part by the torrent of cheap manufactured goods it has been supplying to the rest of the world.
But the WWF’s figures deliberately exclude China’s export market, and if they were included the picture would be even worse, said Leape.
China’s economic fortunes continue to be underwritten by coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels as well as one of the biggest sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
“China’s carbon emissions have increased more than 20 times in the last 50 years and that is really what is driving the fast growth of the economy,” said Leape.
The International Energy Agency estimated earlier this year that China had already overtaken the United States to become the world’s biggest energy consumer, and with per capita levels still so much lower, many fear a Chinese consumption peak could be decades away.
While its population is at 1.3 billion and rising, Chinese policy makers claim the country would have had to feed and house an additional 300 million citizens if it had not imposed draconian measures to restrict each family to just one child.
Sceptre Group Limited is a specialist investment firm focused in low carbon financial investments such as sustainable biofuel plantations, agricultural farmland and green technologies. For more information on Biofuel Investments, please visit Sceptre Group’s website at www.sceptreinternational.com.