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Green China Overview

China's EnvironmentWe're resuming regular posting today, but one last retro post is in order.

To a very great degree, whether or not we as a planet manage to win the Great Wager depends upon China. The combination of its size, course of economic growth, and existing reliance on pollution- (and carbon-) intensive industries and energy sources lead us to a world in which China's choices mean the difference between success and failure. We've maintained a focus on China's massively ambitious and deeply uncertain plans to turn itself into a green superpower for awhile now, and a review of where we stand is in order.

The immediate spur for this is that Neal Pierce mentioned us in his column on energy today, and so there may be some new readers coming by looking for that information. It's also likely that many of our regular readers missed some of these stories the first time around, as well. In either case, if you're interested, you can read more in the extended entry below.

"This Miracle Will End Soon" is an essential starting-point. Pan Yue, Deputy Director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, has been remarkably candid about the magnitude of the environmental crisis facing China:

We have no turning-back if we make mistakes on environmental protection. Environmental problems do not merely concern our offspring, but determine whether people of our generation can live safely. Our environmental capacity has already reached the limit of sustaining economic growth. Environmental problems have become bottlenecks that restrain China's economic and social development.

China's responses to this situation vary in both scale and aggressiveness, but it has become increasingly clear that many in Beijing are beginning to recognize the magnitude of the problem. The upcoming Olympics gives the nation an all-too-short deadline for making big changes. As a result, the emerging "Green China" policies cover a variety of arenas.

Currently relying heavily on coal, China is considering adopting greater amounts of renewable energy. The newly-passed Renewable Energy Law mandates that 10% of the nation's energy production be from renewable sources by 2020. As that 10% includes hydroelectric projects -- such as the arguably disastrous Three Gorges dam -- such a goal is timid, to say the least.

But China has big plans for wind power, with representatives from the wind industry claiming that the production goal of 20 gigawatts of wind capacity by 2020 will be easily surpassed. And China has quietly become a major producer of solar photovoltaics, moving into the global #5 position this year; moreover, China is beginning to train solar engineers in Africa and other parts of the developing world. This is a small but important sign that China sees solar as having particular strategic value.

For many, a bigger fear than coal power is the rapid growth of private automobile use. China expects to have 140 million autos on the road by 2020 -- a number greater than the current US auto fleet. China has a history of extremely dirty, inexpensive vehicles, but is Increasingly greening its auto fleet with vehicles like the Wuling Sunshine:

[T]he Wuling Sunshine [is] a small van, running about $5,000 total in cost, and getting around 43 miles per gallon in the city. On sale since 2002, it's among the most popular vehicles in the country, helping to push Wuling to the number one spot in the light vehicles market. ... Remember, too, that the 43 mpg rating was achieved with an engine inexpensive enough to allow the Sunshine to be sold for just $5,000; as more efficient engine technologies come down in price, the Sunshine will get more powerful, more efficient, or maybe even both.

Even more intriguing are the efforts China is making -- through the government, universities and commercial industries -- to promote a rapid shift to non-fossil fuel vehicles. Electric bikes and scooters substantiallly out-sell private automobiles, with over 10 million put on the road this year, compared to 3 million new cars. Perhaps more importantly, China is moving to the cutting-edge of battery and fuel cell vehicle design.

Cleaner production and cleaner cars are important, but with the speed at which China is growing, so is cleaner living. To that end, China is pushing the adoption of sustainable urban revival strategies and green building regulations. And they're starting to think big, too. Calling in famed sustainable designer William McDonough, China is building new, more sustainable megacity developments like the Huangbaiyu Cradle to Cradle Village:

The design of the village aspires to draw power from the sun, to maintain materials in closed-loop systems of technical and biological nutrition, and to create an intergenerational community of people productively engaged in restorative commerce. Its goal is to provide a higher quality of life for the villagers and to exemplify a more hopeful future for the children.

Further examples of awareness leading to change abound. Farming in China is increasingly going organic. Over the last six years, China has increased its organic farm acreage nearly ten-fold -- and is well on its way to becoming the number one organic food producer in the world. While environmental awareness in China still lags far behing the West, there are increasingly signs that sustainability is being taken seriously both by Chinese businesses and by the Chinese people themselves:

22% of the companies polled say they are exceeding government-mandated environmental standards for "CO2 emissions, waste pollution and using energy efficient technologies" (though 39% said “'many' or 'very many' Chinese companies were breaking the law"). 85% said there is a need for stronger rules for "environmental reporting, transparency and monitoring."

China is increasingly taking seriously its problems with desertification:

More than a quarter of China's total land area has been classified as desertified and the degradation is adversely affecting the lives of more than 400 million people, or 30 percent of its population. But through a series of policy measures China has been implementing over the past few years, positive results are finally being seen. Since 1999, the area of desertification has been cut by 37,924 square kilometres, and is being reduced at an annual rate of 7,585 square kilometres

All of this feeds into a new model of development known as the Beijing Consensus:

'This new view is apparent in the way Chinese thinkers are starting to measure growth. Tsinghua economist Hu Angang, among others, now disdainfully labels GDP growth, the sine qua non of Washington Consensus physics, “black GDP growth.” He takes China’s impressive black GDP numbers and subtracts off the terrific costs of environmental destruction to measure “green GDP growth”. Then Hu nets out China’s corruption costs to measure “clean GDP.” This, he says, is how China should measure progress. “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white,” Deng Xiaoing famously observed in one of his early speeches on economic reform. “All that matters is that it catches mice.” But Hu’s GDP tools, which I’ve heard leaders all over the country begin to talk about, reflects the government’s new belief: the color of the cat does matter. The goal now is to find a cat that is green, a cat that is transparent.'

The scale of the problem that China faces is enormous, and many of its efforts will be too timid or otherwise insufficient. But many will succeed -- and these will become the examples from which China will learn. A China that learns to be "a cat that is green, a cat that is transparent" will take us a long way towards winning the Great Wager.

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Excellent post.

In summary:
-China represents 25% of the world population (estimated at over 1500 million people and not the 1300 million given by demographic studies)
-These last 20 years, their economy grew on average at the neck breaking speed of some 10% increase of GDP per year!
- China has over 2000 years of experience in State management... this very fact explains the political intelligence that you illustrate along your article.
- China has a first hand experience with man made ecological disaster: 2000 years of deforestation creating the Loess plateau that is responsible for the word yellow in Yellow river (erosion)
- the Chinese civilization is founded on the idea that reality is change and from there they derive that the only valid way of positionning yourself or your nation is to avoid extremes...

Your conclusion is right on the mark: "The scale of the problem that China faces is enormous, and many of its efforts will be too timid or otherwise insufficient".

The excellent "Beijing Consensus" report speaks about "chaos management" as the Chinese political model; they are surfing indeed on multiple waves of disorder... trying to keeping their eyes on the ball of reality.
We should be conscientious about the deep meaning of this conclusion: the Chinese government does not really control the destiny of its country any longer... it follows changes that are taking place so fast that it is simply not feasible any longer to think about directing the movement of future changes.

Posted by: laodan on 29 Aug 05



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