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2 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 1 March, 2018 10:00:41 PM
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Ecological footprint: Our position in the context of urban sustainability

As we change over the sustainable development goals (SDG), the city planning should be very realistic in terms of the city’s natural resources and absorption capacity
Polin Kumar Saha
Ecological footprint: Our position in the context of urban sustainability

About half of the global population presently lives in cities. This percentage tends to increase and make cities a huge challenge for adopting new practices of conserving natural resources. How green are our cities? How does it coincide to other green cities? Are we making enough progress in becoming sustainable in a global standard? We have no definitive measurements to answer these questions, especially for the cities of developing countries. But we can move forward to clarify these questions through achieving the green city. An exciting message of the prospective work is discussed here with many ways to assess the ecological footprint of cities and the relative measures towards sustainability.

The ecological footprint measures the status of both production and consumption utilising our natural resources. For understanding green or sustainable city, it is a very important issue to know how much water and land area a city requires for creating sufficient resources, as well as how much of that we are consuming and releasing as waste to the nature. We need to understand our individual daily lifestyle and practices alongside with the respective value of our natural resources and its significant uses in terms of high density cities. Because, by minimising ecological footprint, we can support our cities to improve its sustainability and well-being, optimise project investments publicly, and individual understanding of sole impact on the earth.

An ecological footprint is calculated in global hectares (gha) per capita. Literally, a country containing the less per capita ecological footprint may be in a good position towards achieving the sustainability, but it is not always well said unless we would consider our per capita ‘Biocapacity’. The biocapacity or biological capacity is an estimated natural absorption capacity in contrasted with resource production, consumption and waste release at individual level. For example a case of our individual carbon emission versus its absorption and filtration scope in the nature.

The data show that Bangladesh is one of the least significant countries in contributing the individual ecological footprint to the nature. Our present ecological footprint value is 0.72 (biocapacity deficit -0.38), whereas the global average value is around 2.6 and global average biocapacity deficit is -1.1 gha per person. Here the deficit is shown as a negative value, which indicates that our global context or Bangladesh with having the existing natural resources has no more capacity to absorb our further emissions. The positive biocapacity of a country is a good message for them in case of resource extraction and uses. Therefore, this value can explain what about our future design will be on resource production, consumption and conservation practices within the present natural resources.

We can show some more data of different countries for better understanding over the scenarios.  According to the latest data of the Global Footprint Network's Explorer, the analysis of 188 countries is carried out over the period 1962 to 2013 and data released in April 2017. Among these countries, almost 135 countries are found with the deficit of their biocapacity (negative value). For example, most significant countries of biocapacity deficit: Luxembourg (-14.14), Aruba (-11.31), Qatar (-9.56), United States (-4.46), Kuwait (-7.58), Singapore (-7.92), United Kingdom (-7.37), Belgium (-6.25), and Switzerland (-4.48). On the other hand, about 52 countries have reserve their biocapacity (positive value). For example, most significant countries with reserve biocapacity are like: French Guiana (+109.01), Suriname (+85.08), Guyana (+63.51), Gabon (+24.29), Bolivia (+13.77), Mongolia (+9.58), Australia (+7.26), Canada (+7.83), Finland (+7.57), Uruguay (+7.41), Paraguay (+6.36), Brazil (+5.97), New Zealand (+4.54), Sweden (+3.38), and Norway (+3.19). Only one country ‘Sierra Leone’ has found a balanced country between its per capita ecological footprint and biocapacity, which is 1.24 in both cases.

This footprint and biocapacity value of each country may explain its emission status from many aspects. Footprint is not contributed from the same ways in all the countries. It depends on some factors and the specific context of a country like its population size, areas, available resources (land, water and energy) and individual lifestyle. For example, more people of London city use public transport compared to almost any other cities in the United Kingdom. That means the UK is reducing the bulk amount of its footprint through the development of transport strategy in big cities. When we consider the data with our many neighbourhoods, the biggest footprints are found in high income countries or cities, where the lifestyle is more aristocratic with luxurious residents, private automobiles, consuming precious food, or any other excessive consumption practices.

As we change over the sustainable development goals (SDG), the city planning should be very realistic in terms of the city’s natural resources and absorption capacity of a huge amount daily waste as we produce. Certain urban structure or restructure would reduce the carbon footprint gradually; especially, when we could integrate our three city’s resources - land, water and energy into more compact services for the urban growth.

In a massive scale of the city’s sustainability, we always need to think about our individual contribution to the ecological footprint, which could be measured by comparing between all of our resources and its harvesting to meet up the current demand. The policy makers and city planners may divide the whole ecological footprint into five service sectors - energy, settlement, forest, general food and seafood. We need to improve these metrics, including any of the new ones in the context of our city’s critical challenges (e.g. public transport, traffics, water pollution, waste management etc), so that it will create a standardised and simply understood footprint index of city sustainability.  With a standard data source, existing policies can be assessed and hold institutions to be accountable in reserving or increasing the city’s biocapacity.

Then the planners and citizens would be able to see how sustainability-related indicators correlate to the SDGs and how sustainable cities we deserve in the future.

The writer is Senior Research Associate and Sustainability professional at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division.

E-mail: polin.msls2009@gmail.com;

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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