Emergy analysis of the urban metabolism of Beijing

Cities can be modeled as if they were superorganisms with a range of metabolic processes. Research on this urban metabolism can contribute to solving urban environmental problems by revealing details of the metabolic throughput of the system. A key issue is how to find a common basis for measuring the environmental and economic values. By providing a single unified unit, emergy theory integrates the natural and socioeconomic systems and thoroughly evaluates a system's metabolism. We analyzed Beijing's urban metabolic system using emergy synthesis to evaluate its environmental resources, economy, and environmental and economic relations with the regions outside the city during 14 years of development. We compared Beijing's emergy indices with those of five other Chinese cities and of China as a whole to assess Beijing's relative development status. These indices are the emergy self-support ratio (metabolic dependence), the environmental load ratio (metabolic loading), empower density (metabolic pressure), emergy used per person (metabolic intensity per capita), and the monetary equivalent of emergy (emdollars; metabolic intensity). Based on our emergy analysis, Beijing's socioeconomic system is not self-sufficient, and depends greatly on external environmental resources. Its GDP is supported by a high percentage of emergy purchased from outside the city. During the study period, Beijing's urban system showed an increasing dependence on external resources for its economic development. Beijing's loading and pressure on the ecological environment is continuously increasing, accompanied by continuously increasing human emergy consumption. In the future, it will become increasingly necessary to improve Beijing's metabolic efficiency.

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