Sustainable regional development is used worldwide to evaluate region’s development policies. We examined the animal husbandry within the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a vulnerable alpine pastoral region in China. A conventional eco-footprint method has limitations and we used an ecological footprint method as a planning tool to evaluate the sustainability of development policies. Qinghai Tibetan alpine meadows are not only an important renewable natural resource that support livestock for human, but also have a variety of other ecosystem services. However, increases of grassland resources use has led to serious grassland degradation. To better understand the Gannan grassland sustainability, we analyzed the sustainability of each county and city in Gannan from 2005 to 2013 using a modified emergy ecological footprint model, an ecergy carrying capacity (ECC) ecological footprint index (EFI) and an ecological footprint per ten thousand yuan GDP (EFG).
Results indicate that livestock products accounted for the largest portion of GDP that were stable during the nine-year study period. Electricity and coal consumption increased each year, whereas the portion of farming products and firewood collections decreased. The emergy ecological footprint per capita in Gannan increased rapidly, from 4.77 hm2/cap in 2005 to 7.09 hm2/cap in 2013, whereas ECC per capita fluctuated between 4.64 hm2/cap and 5.65hm2/cap. The EFI of Gannan decreased over the niner year study period, indicating that the regional Gannan development is not sustainable. The EFG (Gross Domestic Product) of Gannan decreased from 12.60 hm2 per ten thousand yuan in 2005 to 4.86 hm2 per ten thousand yuan in 2013, implying an improved resource utilization efficiency. Within Gannan, regions with animal husbandry have a higher emergy ecological footprint and emergy carrying capacity per capita. During the nine years, 3 regions, Diebu, Maqu and Luqu had sustainable development, whereas 5 regions, Xiahe, Zhuoni, Zhouqu, Hezuo and Lintan had unsustainable development.
These analysis showed that the development of the entire Gannan region is unsustainable in the last 9 years. Thus, to reduce resource consumption and promote an increase in the emergy carrying capacity are key factors to improve the regional sustainability. For future developments the following measures need to be taken: (1) Improve resource utilization efficiency; (2) Changes in the industrial structure; (3) Development of healthy ecological economic services; (4) Exploit resources reasonably and implement ecological restoration measures.