A study by a Hungarian research group of four was published in the Sustainable Cities and Society in September, which analyzes the environmental sustainability of Hungarian urbanization and the Budapest capital region in a new way by simultaneously comparing the ecological footprint of households and the biocapacity of the available land. The ecological footprint shows the demand, i.e. how many hectares of land are needed to produce the materials used. In 2018, expenditure on food and beverages, housing-related energy consumption, transport, alcohol and tobacco contributed the most to Hungary’s ecological footprint. Biocapacity indicates the ecological supply, i.e. the carrying capacity: how much biologically fertile land there is in the examined area, which can produce renewable resources and absorb the waste from it. Calculations were made in global hectares taking into account crop yields.
The publication, made with the involvement of researchers from the Eötvös Loránd Research Network, the Regional Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Széchenyi István University, and the Corvinus University of Budapest, examined the period between 2003 and 2018. The authors found that the ecological deficit of the country as a whole has been gradually decreasing since the beginning of the 2000s, which is due to the decrease in population and the increase in biocapacity for the country as a whole. However, Budapest’s ecological resources have decreased, which may be due to the deterioration of environmental quality, the shrinking of biologically active surfaces caused by urbanization, and urbanization. The share of the Budapest metropolitan area, which includes the capital and its agglomeration, in Hungary’s total ecological footprint increased from 28.3 percent to 31.5 percent between 2003 and 2018.
Budapest’s congestion is high, although slightly decreasing: while in 2003 the inhabitants of the capital would have needed 34 times as much land to achieve sustainability as they actually had at their disposal, by 2018 this ratio had decreased somewhat – to 30 times. In the agglomeration zone, however, the exceedance increased: from 2.1 to 2.4 times. This is a 7 percent increase in a decade and a half, which is not offset by the biocapacity of the ecosystem on the supply side. According to the study, there are still “ecological reserves” in the rest of Hungary, which increased from 13 percent to 24 percent between 2003 and 2018. This can be related, on the one hand, to the significant population decline outside the metropolitan region of Budapest (from 7.4 million in 2003 to 6.8 million in 2018), and on the other hand to the improvement of the efficiency of agricultural production. The data did not prove the inverted U-shaped relationship between urbanization and the ecological footprint, assumed by many in the literature, and Hungary’s values fell during the global financial crisis.
The results can help policy makers to identify hotspots responsible for above-average ecological imbalances in urban regions. “In order to change people’s consumption behaviour and improve environmental efficiency in ageing societies with a highly centralized urban system like Hungary’s, special programs aimed at primary metropolitan areas should be launched to reduce the further growth of the ecological footprint and stop the shrinking of biocapacity. Such a program can be, for example, support for the public transport system, energy efficiency investments or developments according to the compact city concept,” said co-author Gábor Harangozó, head of the Department of Sustainability Management and Environmental Economics at Corvinus University.
The study was published in the September issue of the Sustainable Cities and Society.