GENEVA (Reuters) - China is drawing on natural resources such as farm land, timber and water twice as fast as they can be renewed in its drive for development, a report from Chinese and international environmentalists said on Tuesday.
The report said the next 20 years would be critical to correct the situation and put the Asian giant's burgeoning economy, with a rapidly growing population, on to a sustainable path.
"China's average ecological footprint has doubled since the 1960s and now demands more than two times what the country's ecosystems can sustainably supply," said a summary of the report, issued by the Swiss-based WWF International.
It said China's "footprint" -- a measure of how much productive land and inland water resources are used up to satisfy the average current lifestyle of each member of the population -- was running at 1.6 hectares per person.
This suggested that for China's current 1.2 billion people -- one sixth of the world population -- to sustain this rate, it would need to either double the land and water area it uses or cut back to nearer the available 0.8 hectares per person.
The report was commissioned jointly by the WWF, formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature, and the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) in Beijing.
It was drawn up with the help of Chinese experts by a U.S.-based group, the Global Footprint Network, which works with the WWF to produce reports on the global, regional and national ecological impact of use of resources.
The Network reported with the WWF on Monday that many African countries were running down their natural resources in the drive for development as their populations grow, but were still using only 1.1 hectares per head, compared with the 1.3 hectares available.
It said the global average footprint was 2.2 hectares per head -- significantly more than the 1.8 hectares available.
By 2050, the whole world's current rate of drawing on natural resources and disposing of waste will require an entire extra planet, Monday's report said.
CCICED Secretary General Zhu Guangyao, an author of the later study, "Report on Ecological Footprint in China", was quoted by WWF as saying the next 20 years would be "a critical period ... for China to realize sustainable development".
WWF said the report presented two strategies to tackle the Chinese problem, starting with "easy" and "slow" measures that would be simple, cheap and popular, such as investing in clean technology and changing to energy-efficient light bulbs.
After that, it said, China could implement a wider approach focusing on compact urban development, individual action, reducing hidden waste flows, carbon reduction strategies, land management and efficiency increases.
Editing by Kevin Liffey