Hong Kong’s ‘ecological deficit’ dangerously high, say conservationists

Conservation groups warn that city's demand for resources is 150 times greater than supply and drastic changes are needed to avoid crisis

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 9:01am

Hong Kong's "ecological deficit" is the ninth largest in the world and the second biggest in Asia, a report by conservation groups WWF and the Global Footprint Network has found.

And they warned that if everyone in the world lived like Hongkongers, almost three Planet Earths would be needed to satisfy global demand for resources.

Cheung Chi-wah, head of the WWF's footprint programme, said the growing biocapacity deficit is particularly dangerous for the city as it needs to import natural resources, often from countries that are also running deficits.

The ecological deficit is the gap between the city's ecological footprint - its demand for resources such as crops, forest products, seafood, and land plus its carbon footprint - and its biocapacity - the supply of biologically productive land and sea area. The report warned that the city's demand is now 150 times greater than supply.

"Hong Kong has to make changes and adapt to the rules of this 'new game', to become less vulnerable to fluctuations in global market prices and supply disruption," said Cheung. "We hope the government, corporations and individuals can take responsibility and adopt a 'consume less, consume wisely' approach."

The city currently has an ecological footprint of 4.7 global hectares (gha) per person compared to 4.0 gha in the last WWF's ecological foot print report published in 2010. Biocapacity per person dropped from 0.04 gha in the last report to 0.03 gha. Today's world average, in comparison, is 2.7 gha and 1.8 gha respectively, the report said.

Global hectares are commonly used to measure the average productivity of all biologically productive land and sea areas.

Hong Kong's insatiable appetite for consumer goods accounted for a staggering one-quarter of the city's total ecological footprint, which this year climbed to 26th place from 45th place three years ago. Household consumption made up 80 per cent of the ecological footprint.

Clothing made up 12 per cent of the household ecological footprint - a category which the report said was particularly crucial for Hong Kong. In a separate online survey conducted by the foundation this month, 80 per cent of respondents did not believe they buy more clothes than needed and the same percentage said they would buy fewer clothes only if they knew the manufacture of clothes negatively affected the environment.

Food comprised an even higher 23 per cent of the household ecological footprint in Hong Kong.

The report warned that if the rest of the world adopted Hong Kong lifestyles, the equivalent of 2.6 earths would be needed to meet global demand for resources by the middle of this century. The last WWF ecological footprint report published in 2010 had estimated 2.2 planets.

"The earth is like a bank … and we are now dipping into its savings of natural resource capital. It will be a crisis for us and for the future of our children," said WWF-Hong Kong's director for conservation, Gavin Edwards.

The earth is like a bank … and we are now dipping into its savings of natural resource capital. It will be a crisis for us and for the future of our children
WWF-Hong Kong's director for conservation, Gavin Edwards

The biannual report studied 150 countries and coincided with Earth Overshoot Day - the day when mankind's demand for natural resources officially exceeds the earth's ability to regenerate them within a year.

Global Footprint Network president Mathis Wackernagel said that despite Hong Kong's biocapacity deficit, the city could still leverage on "innovation power and many efficiency advantages to take the lead in sustainable development".

Despite a dubious environmental record, China had a smaller ecological footprint than Hong Kong this year, ranking 72nd largest on a global scale. This was due to its larger population and land mass.