Posted on 15 January 2011
A new WWF report shows that Hong Kong people are living well beyond the Earth’s limits, consuming over two times our planet's capacity to sustain us.
Hong Kong, China
- A new WWF report shows that Hong Kong people are living well beyond the Earth’s limits, consuming over two times our planet's capacity to sustain us.
According to the Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2010, if everyone in the world lived a similar lifestyle to that of Hong Kong people, we would need the equivalent resources of 2.2 Earths. Hong Kong has the 45th largest Ecological Footprint per person compared to 150 countries with populations larger than 1 million people in 2007.
Compared to Mainland China, Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint is significantly higher, as 1.2 Earths would be needed if all people consumed like an average Chinese in 2007. Hong Kong’s footprint is also slightly higher than China’s major cities, Beijing and Shanghai (2.1 planets needed at Beijing’s average and 2 at Shanghai’s). All cities have service-based economies with the predominant businesses being finance, banking, and trade, but Hong Kong’s population is smaller.
The Ecological Footprint measures the extent of human demand for the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. Both quantities are expressed in units of global hectares (gha). Hong Kong has an average per person Ecological Footprint of 4.0 gha, which is more than double the 1.8 gha of biocapacity - the area actually available to produce resources and absorb CO2 - available per person globally.
Reliance on imports, high carbon footprint
Hong Kong’s excessive reliance on imported resources such as crops, meat, seafood and timber makes it most vulnerable to a changing world.
“While it is unrealistic to think that Hong Kong could ever be self-sufficient in terms of renewable natural resources, Hong Kong has become excessively reliant on the natural resources of the rest of the planet,” notes Dr Andy Cornish, Director, Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.
“This reliance has not caused Hong Kong significant difficulties so far, but the increasing global ecological overshoot will inevitably mean more global competition for natural resources and is changing the rules of the game – rules that Hong Kong must adapt to. Extreme weather events will be more common as the climate changes, making it even more urgent that we reduce our excessive reliance on imported resources.”
Hong Kong’s carbon Footprint is significant, representing 60 percent of its total Ecological Footprint. While Hong Kong’s per person carbon Footprint is excessive, having grown 24 times since 1962, in terms of proportion, CO2 emissions released in Hong Kong account for only 26 percent of the total carbon Footprint. The remaining 74 percent is embodied in imports, meaning that CO2 is emitted elsewhere to supply imports to Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong will have to seriously reduce its carbon Footprint to bring its overall Ecological Footprint down, and that will require a holistic and comprehensive climate and energy strategy,” said Dr Cornish.
Seafood, timber from unsustainable sources
In addition, Hong Kong is still consuming seafood and timber products which are mostly from unsustainable sources, although a massive recent increase in Forest Stewardship Council paper providers is evidence of increasing demand for sustainable products. Increases in the consumption of beef per person are less positive, where the beef consumption per person has surged in recent years, contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases.
"We are in a new era where humanity’s growing Ecological Footprint is outpacing what nature is able to renew. In such times of global overshoot, cities and countries that maintain high levels of resource dependence are putting their own economies severely at risk," said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel.
"As a region particularly reliant on the ecological health of the rest of the world, Hong Kong stands to benefit from minimizing its resource dependence. The more it can provide a high quality of life for its residents on a smaller Ecological Footprint, Hong Kong will not only address global risks, but more directly, it will make its economy more resilient facing the future," he added.
Hong Kong businesses and individuals need to take action
WWF calls for immediate actions from Hong Kong businesses and individuals. “Consumers can demand that the seafood and timber products we consume are produced sustainably. In this way we can leverage Hong Kong’s buying power and act as a regional catalyst to drive natural resource producers towards sustainability. In turn, this will create increased and reliable sources of sustainable products supply for Hong Kong,” concluded Dr Cornish.
“The potential impacts of climate change overseas to the resources Hong Kong imports provide additional self-interest incentives to increase efficiency, reduce wastage and source sustainably. It is imperative to do so sooner rather than later,” he continued.
In contrast to the rest of China, Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint per person has declined by 25% and levelled off since it peaked in the late 1990s. While Hong Kong is benefiting from some increased efficiencies in the city, the decline appears largely due to vagaries in the trade of the embodied carbon of goods and natural resources, and of cropland products. It is mostly not the result of sustainable development policies.