Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Asian Pacific Footprint from the last WWF Living Planet Report

Angsana Botanical Garden Penang

The last WWF's Living Planet report is extremely alarming: it must make us reflect on what should be done to correct the biocapacity imbalances that accumulate. The ecological footprint in the Asian Pacific zone and its biocapacity imbalance  are among the biggest on the planet and certainly one of the most important concern to ensure development in the coming years.

This picture shows an Angsana tree named also Nara or Sena. It is a deciduous handsome tree with a rose-scented hardwood and a trunk up to 2m diameter. This tree could be admired along the road or in the park in Southeast Asia but its preferred habitat is the rainforest.  This one is located in the Penang botanical garden where early in the cool morning Penangites are seen jogging or walking. How long does it take for it to grow? A good introduction to Asian footprint!

WWF methodology

The current Living Planet Report edition from WWF presents the 2008 latest available figures concerning each country ecological situation which is presented by WWF as a balance between:

  i.     The country's footprint which is the demand of its citizens from the environment for all their household needs eating, drinking, heating or air conditioning, mobility, infrastructures etc..

ii.     The country’s biocapacity which is the maximum supply of bio service from its specific territory for producing food, meat or fish, growing timber,  obtaining drinking water, digesting waste, processing grey or brown water, absorbing carbon released  in the atmosphere by fossil combustion etc..

All bio services needed or produced are valued in cropland, forestland, wet or infrastructure surface, fish ground etc... These two quantities have the dimension of an earth ground or wet surface and are expressed by WWF as intensity in global hectare (gha) per person.

WWF had computed "global hectare" after homogenization in order to make easy comparison between the countries.

We can also derive – which is not done by WWF- an absolute value after factoring by the country's population. This absolute value seems to be more relevant to the biocapacity which is mostly an attribute of the territory.  

The Planet and main Ecozones Ecological Balance: 2008 situation

The territory distribution adopted by WWF is related to Ecozone biogeography realm divisions of the Planet's land surface. Ecozone have been evolving in relative isolation over long periods, separated by oceans, broad deserts, or high mountain ranges, that constitute barriers to migration.

As first approximation Footprints only are closely related to both the country achieved development (rural or urban; low or high income) and its population size. Biocapacity is mostly an attribute of the territory related to its size and climate condition.  

With a total population 7 015 millions now we see  (Figure 1) the huge share of Asia-Pacific (55%), then Africa (14%) and the other ones which are more evenly distributed:

Figure 1

A good relationship is necessary in a specific Ecozone and overall planet between the demand of its citizens and what could be supplied by each territory:
-    If footprint > biocapacity we have a stress situation and damage to the environment : this Ecozone is an ecological “sink” and uses a lot of natural resources from outside

-    If footprint < biocapacity we have an exceeding biocapacity  situation in the specific territory : this Ecozone is an ecological “source” and gives a lot of its natural resources

In 2008 the worldwide excess from demand on supply is 0.53 gha per person or 29% of what is supplied yearly (we didn’t find the 50% coefficient produced by WWF). In 2005 the unbalance was 25%. (see Figure 2)

Three Ecozones Latin America (-51%), other Europe (-16%) and Africa (-5%) have an excess supply side and are used as sources for the Planet. Then after we have North America: 44%, Asia Pacific 90%, EU: 1,10% , Middle East/Central Asia: 168% .
Figure 2
After factoring by the populations (see Figure 3) the ratio demand/supply are exactly the same but we are able to compare the unbalance and exchange between the various zones: both the Footprint of the Asian Pacific zone and its Ecological  unbalance are the biggest.

Figure 3
What is Footprint made of  (see Figure 4)? The Footprint of the Planet is composed of 48% of CO2 release. This part has been increasing a lot during the last period. The unbalance is mostly produced by CO2 and is stored in the atmosphere leading to a deterioration of climatic conditions: temperature rise, instability, extreme events etc..Copland and Forest Land are big share also. 

Figure 4

To have a better view we have tried to bring together (see Figure 5) last 2008 Footprint with 2005 Footpprint (cf. Living PLanet Report 2008) . For the planet on 2005-2008 there is a +2,5% increase mostly on Forest Land and Fishing grounds. Carbon on the other hand has been decreasing which seems strange. 

Figure 5

If we look further (see Figure 6) at each country's Footprint:  Asian Pacific has the bigget increase. But why is North America improving?
Figure 6

We can resume the situation of Ecological Unbalance of the Planet as follows in Figure 7:

Figure 7


*   *

The latest report by WWF is extremely alarming: it must lead us to reflect on what should be done to combat imbalances that accumulate. We plan to examine more closely the situation in the Asian Pacific Ecozone in our next post. In addition we have summarized below the key methodological issues that come to mind after the WWF study:

Confidence limit assessment: A number of countries whose populations are under 1 million are not included in the countries list produced by WWF but are subject to an overall correction in the whole Planet and the Ecozone figures. The overall population is 6740 million very close to the value from UNFPA Word Population report in 2008. But when we compute the footprint thus including all small countries derived from the Ecozone figures we find a smaller number 29% for the overall unbalance and we didn’t find the 50% coefficient produced by WWF. This situation needs to be further discussed.

Biocapacity of unpopulated Ecozone: Another question: for the biocapacity are there any additional capacities issued for unpopulated ecozone not covered in WWF report as Antartica or Artica?

Real Footprint: In the WWF report each country’s Footprint demand is only its citizen’s demand which means that the demand could be assumed partly by domestic production or by import from other supply zones. Biocapacity supply on the other hand is only the supply of the territory.  We need to address the real footprint input of the territory for its own needs plus the produced export and deduct the imported footprint which is another country's input. In other word we need to compute the footprint inputs inside the country’s GDP. Such approach would give a better view of the Ecological unbalance derived from the last period of globalization, where many manufacturing jobs have been destroyed in developed countries and relocated in emerging markets.

(See: )