Page 4076 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 20 September 2011

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required to absorb the carbon dioxide emitted from the consumption of resources.

This definition has an urban focus. This is understandable, given that it is typically urban residents who have larger ecological footprints. Canberra has a predominantly urban population, so this definition is appropriate for our ACT setting. However, it is important to highlight that urban and rural alike have an ecological footprint and, in the case of Australians, it is typically very large. The ecological footprint is typically measured in terms of how many hectares of biological production, as an average production measure across the globe, it takes to support one person’s or a community’s lifestyle.

The ecological footprint concept was first developed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in Canada. The concept has been applied in many situations around Australia. For example, besides the ACT, the Randwick City Council has an ecological footprint program applied across three councils.

Some might not be aware that the ACT’s ecological footprint is the highest in Australia. Moreover, it is also high by global standards. According to 2007 data from the global footprint network, Australia is ranked ninth in the world, with the USA being ranked sixth and the United Arab Emirates ranked first. To quote from the ACT government’s submission to the carrying capacity inquiry:

Between 1998-99 and 2003-04, the ACT’s ecological footprint increased by 15 per cent from 7.4 to 8.5 global hectares per capita, which is 17 per cent higher than the Australian average. To place this in context, in 2006, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was about 1.8 global hectares per capita, while the global average footprint was 2.6 hectares.

When this per capita impact is multiplied by the ACT’s current population of 357,673, this gives an ecological footprint for the ACT of over three million global hectares or almost 13 times the area of the ACT. This result emphasises that the impacts of the ACT’s consumption extend beyond its borders and that the ACT relies on significant productive areas in other parts of Australia and the world. These statistics are significant.

Moreover, two-thirds of the ACT is currently in nature reserves, meaning that the effective footprint of the ACT is significantly greater than 13 times the area. So this makes our footprint even worse than first quoted. These statistics call for immediate action by the government. The ACT is very well positioned to do something meaningful about reducing this footprint, and the Greens are in the business of making sure this occurs.

Before I go on to what might be done to reduce this footprint, I would briefly like to go over the reasons why the ACT’s and many other jurisdictions’ and countries’ ecological footprints are as large as they are. It boils down to a list of usual suspects, being high incomes, population growth, consumerism, inequity, peak oil, forest clearance, biodiversity loss, water pollution, climate change and their interactions and consequences. It could easily continue, as the list is long and complicated, but these are a start. All of these factors are vexed issues in their own right as well as when taken collectively.

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