Worldchanging ally Junko Edahiro, founder of the NGO Japan for Sustainability, delivered a presentation about Japanese citizen and NGO action in October at the China-Japan High Level Forum on Energy Saving and Environmental Protection Policies, hosted by the Development Research Center, State Council of P.R. China.
While in China, she interviewed Dr. Lin Jiabin, the Deputy Director of the Department of Social Development Research at the State Council. The two spoke about China's environmental policies, current Chinese efforts to address global warming, and the ways in which the two Asian nations can work and learn together as they face development challenges that are unique and unprecedented.
Below is an excerpt from Edahiro's longer interview.
EDAHIRO: When did you start addressing the issue of global warming, and how are you tackling it in China?
DR. LIN: We have made positive efforts to tackle it for about four or five years after the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held. At that time, the pressure on China increased in the midst of rising international concern over the issue. Two years ago, the Energy Saving and Emission Reduction Leading Group and the Global Warming Countermeasures Leading Group were organized in the central government to comprehensively confront global warming, with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao as the head and representatives of each ministry and agency as members.
These two groups set a goal of reducing energy consumption per unit of sales by 20 percent by 2010 and reducing major environmental indicators such as chemical oxygen demand and sulfur dioxide concentrations by 10 percent. They also encourage people to act towards attaining these goals.
EDAHIRO: You mentioned the "Scientific Development Concept" at yesterday's meeting. Could you elaborate on this?
DR. LIN: China launched the idea of the Scientific Development Concept at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party in October 2007. It is part of a big wave of development economics. Behind this move, there was an understanding that pursuing economic growth alone has led to "growth without development" in terms of social welfare; that is, people's well-being has not been improved despite the growth in GDP. To address the issue, a new idea has emerged, with the focus shifting from "growth" to "development." It suggests that GDP is not everything, and asks what is really necessary to make people happy. This is an idea that places emphasis on the overall development of human beings.
The word "growth" in Chinese simply means "to increase or become larger," and is used in such phrases as "an increase in GDP." Previously, the words "growth" and "development," have been considered to be essentially the same idea in China, but people have come to recognize the difference.
The new concept of "scientific development" sees the importance of public welfare, which leads to people's happiness and well-being. It aims to enhance their quality of life by improving social security, housing, medical services, and pensions. GDP has been widely used as an criteria to measure economic development, but now various other criteria are being examined to measure overall human development.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of China's reform and opening up. Concerning the reform, specifically market reform, I regret to say that it has gone too far. In the process toward a market economy, the government gave up its role, thus causing various problems in the society.
Such problems are often seen in medical services, housing, and education.
In the educational field, for example, an increasing number of universities set up their own companies, and some professors appear to be more enthusiastic about making money than teaching students. On the face of it, this trend seems to revitalize universities, but it is questionable whether these universities can provide meaningful education.
Since a few years ago, China has been reflecting on these circumstances and recognizing the need to review the government's role and the role of the market. This has resulted in the new policies focused on securing medical services, social welfare, and housing.
EDAHIRO: With China's large population, its carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption per capita are very small compared to more developed countries. In contrast, though, in advanced Chinese cities like Beijing, many people live as affluently, or even more affluently, than people in developed countries. Beijing has progressed so much that it is hard to believe that it is a part of a developing country. In fact, you might even say that this big developing country called China also contains an advanced country as large as Japan. Perhaps you really need two major policy approaches, one adapted for the China that is a poor developing country and one for the China that is an affluent, advanced country. What do you think?
DR. LIN: Yes, that is how I see it too. More and more people waste so many things, and a certain class of people is being especially wasteful, even though this is a developing country.
Meanwhile, many old habits still remain from the poorer past. For example, people often go to restaurants and order more food than they can eat, and then leave the extra food behind on their plates. I call it the "poor man's consumer culture." To change their consumption behavior, we are considering a graduated system of utility rates for things such as electricity and water. With this system, the more people consume, the higher rates they pay. Also, we have not yet introduced inheritance and property taxes for individuals, so we are considering such taxes in the future in order to redistribute income and narrow the gap among people.
EDAHIRO: What do you think are the major upcoming challenges facing the implementation of China's environmental policies?
DR. LIN: I think there are two major challenges. One is how we can create a transition in the public's awareness. One of the most effective measures available is to promote environmental education. Although today it is being introduced in school education, we need to make further efforts to promote it on an ongoing basis. Actually, my children are in the generation that received such an education, and their behavior is clearly different from their elders', such as their efforts to turn off the lights at home when not needed.
The other challenge is how we can make innovations in the resource price mechanism. We can say that current resource prices are kept down by price controls, which leads to wasteful use of resources. So it is important to change the pricing mechanism in order to reduce resource consumption.
EDAHIRO: What do you expect from future cooperation with Japan?
DR LIN: I think that China can learn a lot from the past experience of industrialized nations, especially Japan. European countries and the United States took 150 years to be industrialized, and Japan took only half of that. Now, China is rapidly moving toward industrialization, and it is expected to achieve the goal within half the years that Japan took. In the past, problems accompanying industrialization occurred gradually over decades, but China is facing intensive and interrelated environmental problems, because of its unprecedented speed of industrialization. Since Japan achieved rapid growth in a relatively short period of time, learning from its approaches and technologies is very helpful to China.
The full interview can be found here.
Top photo credit: flickr/PaulPerton, CC license. Right photo credit: Japan for Sustainability.