Monday, 23 July 2007

China vs Crisis?

I've been chatting with some interesting people in China recently. And there is definitely a case to be made that we need to set the record straight on where China sits on green issues.

There is a view in the West that Chinese economic development - for instance the fact that it (may have) overtaken the US in total carbon emissions - outstrips any efforts we could make. On the other hand the Chinese government quite rightly counters with 'what do you expect?' - if the world moves most of its manufacturing base to one region, what do you think would happen to its emissions?

The view I am hearing from China is that first of all public and government concerns are running high; they are in the frontline of climate change (eg desertification) and also suffer unbearable levels of pollution. Secondly that they have the political will (lacking $60Tr in oil vested interests) to leap frog dirty technology. And that they see the potential in clean tech (for instance mass produced affordable solar panelling) being for China what electronics was Japan.

Here's just a few of the many stories that have made it through to the West which support this view:

- Dongtan "the world's first sustainable city": arup link

- Lenovo, the greenest electronics manufacturer in the world: Greenpeace link

- "China's booming recycling industry is helping to slow the destruction of forests worldwide, providing a strong market for wastepaper that mostly comes from the United States and Europe, according to a study released Friday. Brian Stafford, the lead author of the report and an industry consultant, said China is by far the world's biggest consumer of wastepaper and that in the last four years alone, it has prevented 71.6 million tons of wastepaper from heading to landfills in the U.S., Japan, and Europe." Business Week 13/7/07

- Investment in Renewables. China has said it intends to spend an estimated US$200 billion on renewable energy over the next 15 years, partly to build hydropower, wind- and solar-powered plants to fuel its growth. treehugger link

- Massive tree planting programmes link

- Investment in innovation eg solar powered desalination: via hugg and alt fuel cars and wired

It's far from all good, of course, but there is little recognition here for what is being done and being planned - maybe we need a 'villain' to carry our collective guilt?

Given China's trajectory I'd imagine what happens there will, it's true, largely determine the outcome of the current climate crisis. If my inklings are at all correct there is a chance that the history of averting the crisis could be written in Cantonese :J


Nathan Schock said...

It's also important for multinationals operating in China to be aware of the environmental "crisis" in order to protect their brand. I posted recently on an article from the Harvard Business Review showing how the Chinese often view multinationals' decision to locate in their country driven by the desire to take advantage of looser environmental regulations. Companies operating in China need to do more than just follow the rules...

Phil Teer said...

Apologies in advance that this response is not about China.

I was wondering what your perspective is on the political implications of the current floods.

Seems to me that Global Warming has just shot up the political agenda. Flood defence plans alone are going to cost a fortune never mind the broader impact upon the economy.

Should the government be prioritising a War on Warming above their war on terror?

Charles Frith said...

You're right John that China is way more progressive than most people would guess but equally its done what it always does effectively to get to this point; allowed its own people to die.

That said I've strong hopes that Communism albeit nothing like Marx anticipated will make quicker work of macro environmental policy once the Politburo grasps the sheer amount of money to be created from Green industries.