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Our mission is to promote a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers.

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New Report Examines China’s Fast-growing Footprint

China’s Ecological Footprint has quadrupled in the last four decades, with the country now demanding more from the planet than any nation except the United States, according to a report released last month by Global Footprint Network, WWF China, and CCICED (China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development), a Chinese government advisory group.

In the last 50 years, China has soared from being one of the more moderate consumers of the planet’s resources to one of the largest, according to the Report on Ecological Footprint in China, presented on June 10, 2008 in Beijing. The report’s findings underscore the crucial role China will play in addressing the major resource challenges humanity faces in the 21st century.


If China were to follow the consumption patterns of the United States, it would demand the available biocapacity of the entire planet. This is likely to be a physical impossibility for China, and for the other nations of the world. In contrast, if China can model a new development path that achieves environmental quality and human well-being, it will lead the way for the world as a whole.

Importing resources equal to the biocapacity of Germany

Since 1961, China’s population has doubled and as the country has grown more affluent, its per-person resource consumption has also doubled. It now takes the equivalent of more than two Chinas to provide for the country’s resource consumption and to absorb its waste. China’s imports demanded as much biocapacity as that found in the entire country of Germany.

  TOTAL FOOTPRINT, Top Countries, 2003
Yet China’s individual consumption remains relatively moderate on the world scale. The average Chinese resident has an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 global hectares, below the world average of 2.2, and a fraction of the 9.6-hectare Ecological Footprint of the average U.S. resident. Over the last forty years, as China has seen a rapid rise in U.N. human development indicators that evaluate factors such as years of life expectancy, adult literacy, and per capita GDP, its Footprint has grown moderately in comparison.

As China’s infrastructure and economy grows, the country has the opportunity to make choices that lead it to high development without a high Ecological Footprint. Such a course would make China more resilient in the face of global resource constraints, the report states.

A dual strategy for sustainable progress

“China has traditionally been forward-looking in recognizing that its resource constraints pose a serious potential threat to its long-term progress,” said Global Footprint Network Executive Director Mathis Wackernagel. “China’s leaders are painfully aware that they can only secure their population’s well-being within the limits of what the planet can provide.”

The report outlines a strategy by which China could reduce its total Ecological Footprint, while still helping secure a high quality of life for its citizens. It involves a dual strategy: on the one hand addressing activities that are cheap and easy to change –such as the use of energy-efficient lighting – and on the other those have the longest-term effect on resource use, such as investing in resource-efficient infrastructure.

To download the full report, click here.