SUSTAINING GROWTH IN CHINA
“When western nations began developing their economic strength during the Industrial Revolution, the sight of factories belching huge plumes of smoke was a comforting sign to many that goods were being produced, creating jobs for the masses and wealth for the owners.
In the 21st century, however, those similar plumes of industrial exhaust are less attractive, as it is now recognized that they bring, along with industrial growth and jobs, environmental consequences.
And at a time when nations are in a race to acquire energy supplies such as coal and oil, the issue of economic sustainability comes to the fore.
Jeffrey Chen, CEO of NeoPac Lighting, a producer of sustainable LED lighting; Karen Tang, executive director of the Better Hong Kong Federation; and Jim Zhang, managing director of the North Asia Region (China and Mongolia) for The Nature Conservancy, discussed China’s sustainability issues for Asean Affairs.
Q: With 1.3 billion people squeezed
into a country smaller than the United
States, is there any hope at all for
sustainability in China?
“The ‘Scientific Development Concept’
incorporates a nation’s sustainable
development, social welfare, increased
democracy and the creation of a harmonious
society, and the concept is the
socioeconomic ideology of the Chinese
government,” according to Jeffrey Chen.
However, he noted that the overpopulation
issue in China strains land, energy, water
and other environmental resources, creating
obstacles to sustainability.
Q: A study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency shows that China has already become the predominant source of carbon dioxide, the main global warming emission. What efforts are being made to reduce this?
A:The combined forces of developing nations
switching their manufacturing bases
to China and China’s economic growth and
domestic growth in manufacturing were
described by Jeffrey Chen as factors in
the growth of carbon emissions in China.
He cited the development of solar energy,
vehicles using alternative energy sources,
smart grids and LED lighting as significant
tools to fight carbon emissions. The Nature
Conservancy was able to assist the Chinese
government on emissions in the forestry
sector and was working with local governments
in Sichuan and Inner Mongolia to
restore forests, Jim Zhang said.
Q: The desert is sweeping into China’s valleys, choking rivers and consuming precious farm land, and the green walls to stop it do not appear to be working. Is this a coming disaster?
A:Both Jim Zhang and Jeffrey Chen
said that in some areas, the “green wall”
approach was working, and adopting the
right technologies and policies could prevent
Q: The disregard of the environment is one of the major causes of the current severe status of China’s pollution. Is this attitude changing in China?
Jim Zhang: “China is no different than any
other country in the world in this respect,
but it is encouraging how quickly the situation
is changing. Take me for example. I
come from the business world with little
previous engagement in the environment
and now I am dedicated full time to environmental
issues by managing The Nature
Conservancy North Asia region. Chinese
public awareness and engagement are moving
Q: China is moving aggressively on clean energy, outpacing both the U.S. and EU in green investment. Still, while the nation has put in place many environmental laws, these regulations appear to need better implementation and monitoring. Do you agree?
Karen Tang: “China is a big country, and
not just environmental laws, but most laws,
need close monitoring. However, with the
success that China has been demonstrating
in the past two decades, once they have the
will/target, they can make it.”
Q: Just over 15 percent of China is now protected as natural reserves; logging of natural reserves has been banned since 1998; and the government has pledged to cut CO2 emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. Will these measures work?Jim Zhang: “Considering China’s determi-nation and quickness on the ground, these measures will very likely succeed. Take the nature reserve system as an example. The more than 2500 nature reserves covering 15 percent of China were established in a very short period of time, mostly over the last three decades.”
Jeffrey Chen: “The Chinese government
has strong intentions to reach this goal.
Between 1980 and 2000, the average annual
growth rate of China’s energy consumption
was 4.3 percent and the average growth
rate of the gross domestic product (GDP)
was 9.6 percent. The energy consumption
intensity of GDP during the past 20 years
was actually reduced from 3.79 kilograms
of coal equivalent/dollar in 1980 to 1.20
kilogram coal equivalent/dollar in 2000.
Q: Jianguo Liu, Michigan State University Distinguished Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, says the Chinese government should enact new policies to stem the growth of households. Is this a practical idea?
Karen Tang: “China is moving to a more
open society with higher expectations from
its citizens, and the government has to
adopt a more relaxed policy on giving birth,
especially to ethnic minorities and to those
who have a single child in their family.”
Both Jim Zhang and Jeffrey Chen think
the One Child Policy is on the way out, and
Zhang noted that “most of the Chinese economic
experts have suggested the government
change the policy to stem the rapid
growth of the real estate market boom in
Q: An encouraging note is that sustainability reporting is increasing among Chinese corporations and stakeholders in these corporations are paying more attention to these reports. Is that enough?
Jim Zhang: “Paying more attention is not
enough! A best practice in every corporation
and stakeholder will also be crucial.”
Q: If China hopes to meet the needs of the growing population, it needs to radically alter its current methods of resource management on a large scale. Your view of this statement.
Karen Tang: “We need to think out of the
box, and I believe technology, including
green energy technology on combating
drought or flooding, which helps food grow,
will definitely be useful. Also, birth control
in China has proved to be very encouraging.
I think the population issue in China is
more or less contained. As it moves toward
modernization and urbanization, population,
will, to a certain extent, be more naturally
Q: As is the case in many countries, the flight from rural areas to the cities is occurring in China. Does this pose a risk to effective land management?
Jeffrey Chen: “It is actually an urbanization policy and process in China. By enforcing the policy, the Chinese government intends to get more land from farmers and manage the land more effectively. This is also a land redistribution process.”
Jim Zhang: “As the gap between rich and poor enlarged, and the rural people’s income rose less than the average growth of the urban society, this kind of problem has occurred. China will have no way to keep doing what she has done in the past 30 years. Her economic development model needs a big change. This will be clearly seen in the upcoming Five Year Plan (2011- 2015). A more sustainable policy set is at the gate to come out next year.
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