October 11, 2004

Canada's ecological footprint ranks 3rd out of 20 urban areas in FCM study

Canada has the world's third-largest "ecological footprint," and if everyone in the world consumed at the rate Canadians do, it would take four more Earths to support them. This is one of the main findings of "Ecological Footprints of Canadian Municipalities and Regions," a report prepared for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) by economist Mark Anielski and Jeff Wilson of the Edmonton firm Anielski Management.

The study was commissioned by the FCM to develop the first Canadian estimates of the ecological footprint of each of the major Canadian municipalities and regions that contribute to the FCM's Quality of Life reporting system. An ecological footprint measures the impact each person or group makes on the environment. The footprint is defined as the biologically productive area needed to produce all the products a person or group consumes and to absorb all their waste.

The report's analysis concludes that it takes 7.25 hectares of land and sea throughout the world to support each Canadian. Based on global population, however, the Earth has only 1.9 hectares of productive land and sea available to meet the needs of each person. By this measure, Canadians consume almost four times the Earth's capacity. In comparison, the United States has the world's second largest ecological footprint at 9.7 hectares per person. France, with a population twice the size of Canada's, has the 14th largest footprint at 5.26.

Of the 20 Canadian municipalities and urban regions studied, York Region, Calgary and Edmonton had the highest ecological footprints, at 10.33, 9.86 and 9.45 hectares per person, respectively. The three lowest footprints were recorded by Greater Sudbury, Niagara Regional Municipality and Quebec City, with 6.87, 6.88 and 6.89, respectively. The good news, says the study, is that Canada has ample natural capital or biocapacity: at 14.25 hectares per person, this represents a surplus of 7.0, i.e. the difference between nature's supply (biocapacity) and Canadians' ecological footprint.

The study found that energy demand accounts for 55% of the Canadian footprint, with the largest portion consumed by industry (38%), followed by transportation (35%), residential (15%) and commercial/business (12%). Other components include the consumption of crop land (19%), forest land (16%), built area (5%), pasture land (3%) and sea space (2%).

Even with a domestic surplus of natural capital, Canadians are living off a larger portion of the "interest" of the Earth's biocapacity than other global citizens, says the study. This is partly due to Canada's cold climate and corresponding energy demands, as well as levels of consumption of other natural capital.

FCM president Ann MacLean, Mayor of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, said the ecological footprint is a useful tool for Canadians to assess their impact on the environment and find ways to reduce it. "This report," she said, "is a wake-up call to Canadians. FCM's member municipalities, particularly those in our Quality of Life Reporting System, are committed to developing tools to help municipal governments preserve and improve the quality of life in their communities. The ecological footprint is one such tool. Communities and individuals can use this report as a guide to making the changes needed to reduce our impact on the planet while improving our quality of life."

The report says individual, household and municipal footprints can be reduced in many ways without compromising quality of life. Examples cited include driving less and opting for less energy-intensive transportation modes such as walking, cycling or public transit; retrofitting homes and businesses to be more energy-efficient or exploring renewable energy alternatives; buying "green power" from local utilities; and buying more fuel-efficient, less polluting vehicles.

Municipalities, it adds, can use the ecological footprint in conjunction with other environmental indicators to measure progress toward a municipal/urban vision of sustainability. Other specific ways they might use the footprint include:

*tracking returns on investment (i.e. reduced footprint) from sustainable transportation, green infrastructure and other sustainability capital investments;

*offering incentives for "green" buildings;

*putting ecological footprint estimates on household and business utility bills;

*encouraging community or neighbourhood sustainability lifestyle action plans;

*in planning and budgeting, considering the outcomes of municipal spending on achieving a "balanced ecological budget," where sustainable living means living within the means of nature that supports the urban community; and

*encouraging or mandating renewable energy infrastructure investment by businesses and households through building codes, renewable energy bonds or other ecological tax incentives.

More information is available from Massimo Bergamini at the FCM, 613/241-5221, ext 247, or on FCM's Web site, www.fcm.ca .

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