Hong Kong is living far beyond its ecological means

Posted: 22 January 2011

Hong Kong residents are living way beyond the Earth's means, according to  a new assessment by the Global Footprint Network and WWF.  But, despite living so heavily on resources from abroad, there are a number of available measures which would reduce this pressure and achieve a one-planet Ecologial Footprint, the report says.

The Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report, which WWF plans to issue every two years, aims to provide a benchmark to track Hong Kong residents' shifts in consumption, from which trends can be identified and actions proposed.

The 2010 report reveals that if everyone in the world lived a similar lifestyle to that of Hong Kong residents, we would need the equivalent of 2.2 Earths. In 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, Hong Kong residents had an average per person Ecological Footprint of 4.0 global hectares (hectares with world-average productivity). This level of demand is more than double the 1.8 hectares that was available per person globally in 2007 to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2.

C02 emissions have soared

"Unsustainable demand on a global scale means that countries and regions such as Hong Kong will find it increasingly harder to meet their resource needs simply by relying on ecological services from abroad," said Dr. Wackernagel.  "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."

Hong Kong footprint

The largest portion of Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint — 60 per cent — comes from carbon dioxide emissions. Hong Kong’s carbon Footprint per person has grown 24-fold since 1962. While 26 per cent of its carbon Footprint comes from CO2 emitted from within Hong Kong itself (for example, from vehicles and electricity use), the majority, 74 percent is embodied in goods and services produced abroad. Some 58 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted elsewhere to supply imports to Hong Kong.

Other major drivers of Hong Kong’s Footprint are consumption of seafood and timber products, which are mostly from unsustainable sources.

But there are reasons for optimism. In contrast to the rest of China, Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint per person has declined 25 percent and leveled off since it peaked in the late 1990s. While it is no doubt 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.

One key way Hong Kong could reduce its Footprint is by boosting the market for sustainable goods. “Consumers can demand that the seafood and timber products we consume are produced sustainably,” notes Dr Andy Cornish, Director, Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong. “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 an increased and reliable supply of sustainable products for Hong Kong.”

With 70 per cent of the average carbon Footprint coming from household consumption (as opposed to businesses or public infrastructure and services), individual choices have a key role to play. The report calls on Hong Kong to reduce excessive, inefficient and wasteful consumption. It also calls for transforming its modest agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries industries to minimize their impact to the environment.

“Solutions are readily available, and Hong Kong is a city used to reinventing itself,” the report concludes. “Reducing Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint per person by half would approximate the biocapacity that is available globally and, therefore, make it a logical and sustainable objective.”