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Who poses greatest ecological threat?

Environmentalists argue that US still remains the greatest burner of oil, using 25% of annual supplies and producing 25% of carbon emissions.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 19:15 IST

US experts are divided as to who poses more serious threat to the environment -- US, China or India?

Two leading US environmental think tanks have warned that the economic boom of Asian giants India and China could present serious threats to the environment.

But other environmentalists argued that the US still remains the greatest burner of oil, using 25 per cent of annual supplies and producing 25 per cent of carbon emissions.

The US also has the largest ecological footprint.

The average American citizen requires about 9.7 hectares to provide resources consumed and space for waste, an amount that is 205 per cent of what the country can provide within its borders.

That figure is only 1.6 hectares for the average Chinese person and 0.8 hectares for the average Indian -- or 210 per cent of the country's capacity.

But China and India, experts say, together have 2.5 billion people, or nearly 40 per cent of the world's population of 6.5 billion.

China now eats up just under a third of the world's rice, over a quarter of world steel and nearly half of its cement, the Worldwatch Institute said in its 2006 State of the World report released on Wednesday.

"The earth can simply not supply these countries' rising demands for energy, food and raw materials," Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin said.

Lester Brown, author of the 1995 book "Who will feed China?" and president of the Earth Policy Institute, added: "Though (China) doesn't admit it yet, the US model won't work for China. And if it does not work for China, it will not work for India."

The use of oil has doubled in India since 1992, while China went from near self-sufficiency in the mid-1990s to the world's second largest importer in 2004, the Worldwatch report said.

Prices worldwide have soared as India and China scooped up shares in oil companies around the world.

On the positive side, Worldwatch pointed out that both India and China have ambitious programmes to use renewable energies.

China's congress passed an "ambitious" renewable energy law that comes into force this month. China has been a pioneer in the use of small wind turbines, hydro generators and biogas plants, the Institute said.

India now has the world's fourth largest wind power industry and aims to raise its share of renewable energies to 20 to 25 per cent of power generation, according to Worldwatch.

Still, Siva Yam, president of the US-China Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, sees one major hindrance for sustainable development in Asia.

"The world is getting smaller and it's a very competitive market. Paying more attention to the environment would disadvantage China against its competitors, for example India," he said.

"China already has extensive laws protecting the environment, the problem lies in enforcing regulations. Local authorities just don't enforce them," he adds.

The World Wildlife Fund's director for climate change, Hans Verholme, however, supports the view that China is on the right track.

"Both nations are signatories of the Kyoto protocol, but as developing nations they are exempted from cutting their emissions. However, China has already taken voluntary measures, which have had a very positive impact," Verholme says.

Referring to last year's gathering on global warming in Canada, Verholme said: "What we saw in Montreal now was that while China came forward with measures it has taken to improve environmental sustainability, the US did not."

First Published: Feb 03, 2006 17:00 IST