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Increasing consumption associated with economic growth and urbanization are placing increasing pressure on China's natural environment, according to a report released by the World Wide Fund For Nature, or WWF, on Wednesday.
The report, named China Ecological Footprint Report, is the 2012 edition of a biennial survey on the country's demands on nature.
Noting that the demand China places on the natural environment per capita is lower than the global average, it goes on to say the country is already consuming 2.5 times its biocapacity, or its capacity to regenerate natural resources and absorb carbon emissions.
The report says carbon remains the largest component of China's ecological footprint, increasing from 10 percent in 1961 to 54 percent in 2008. Only a small portion of that comes from the direct consumption of fuel or electricity in households or of gasoline for transport purposes.
The chief drivers of the average Chinese person's ecological footprint have also changed. A significant turning point came around 1985, when the growth rate of per capita consumption outstripped production efficiency.
"Of all the demands China is now placing on its environment, carbon emissions are having the biggest impact by far," said Li Lin, WWF head of conservation strategy.
"More than ever, the country needs innovative solutions to reduce its carbon footprint — production efficiency needs to improve, and consumers need to shift their choice to low-footprint products."
The report shows that rapid urbanization is having a large effect on China's footprint: Urban areas throughout mainland provinces are registering much higher per capita footprints than rural areas. Urbanization often comes in tandem with increasing incomes, which in turn leads to changes in consumption patterns.
But findings also show that rural areas are faced with difficulties in protecting their natural resources.
"In Beijing's urban core, the average household consumes less energy than homes in its rural periphery," Li said. "Urban density has a lot to do with this, as does access to better public transportation and other services mainly found in cities.
"Reducing the country's footprint isn't a difficulty that cities are facing alone. It requires balanced development in urban and rural areas and the promotion of sustainable consumption patterns outside of large population centers."