The Truth About the Dragon: China’s Future is Inevitably Green

Written by Moritz Bühner   // April 3, 2013    1 Comment

What if every person in India drove a car? What if all Chinese were to live in their own 3-bedroom house? At the sight of a prospering global economy, many people’s trust in the future has been profoundly undermined, especially in the west. Unaware of the ethical paradox, this view grants a wasteful living standard only to the citizens of well-established economies. The old, bipolar world order knew only two spheres of development: The western NATO-states on the one hand and the eastern USSR on the other. Back then, it was only these two spheres that caused large scale-pollution, and this was the maximum the planet could take. Following this logic, the only way to prevent a global environmental catastrophe was to keep the traditional poor countries poor. A changing state of affairs in the population-rich BRICS states would threaten the ecological balance. When economic development in traditionally poor countries over the last 20 years led to a growing middle class, and when this very middle class naturally strove to have a western standard of living, the citizens of the global south were credited as being responsible for a global disaster. To me, it is more than clear that we got something wrong here, extremely wrong. First, how can a minority of people in the west claim a privilege to use a majority of resources? How on earth can the very same minority then deny others access to these resources? Second, there is a big misunderstanding about mankind and the environment. It is not the absolute number of people who are unsustainable. Much rather, it is their relative standard of living. How can other species be totally sustainable no matter how many individuals they have? The answer is as simple as it gets: because they “live green”! To illustrate this point, I’ll borrow a comprehensive example cradle-to-cradle pioneer Michael Braungart originally found. Added up, the biomass of ants exceeds all human biomass four-fold. Have you ever worried about the environmental effects of Indian or Chinese ants? Actual ants, I mean, not blue ones? No? For a reason! No matter in which part of the world ants live, their lifestyle is 100% in line with ecologic cycles, totally independent of their population size.

Ants really are fascinating creatures. Not only do they live in a way consistent with nature, but also they inspire mathematical algorithms and provide us with solutions for optimization issues. But that’s not today’s topic. Much rather, I want to give you hope for China’s economic development in terms of turning green much earlier than expected. Now, actually.

China Shifts to Green Business 6 times Earlier than We Did

Whereas western economies were blinded by the energy abundance of the fossil fuel era for a good 120 years (yes, it really took that long before anyone came up with more ecologic alternatives, roughly from 1850 to 1970!), China is 6 times quicker at embracing green business. What? Well, the boom years of the dragon have endured for hardly 20 years and already it has become the biggest global investor in renewable energies (see FT.com: China retakes renewables investment lead). China also became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon emissions in 2011. However, when you read headlines like “China Overtakes the US as the Worlds Biggest Carbon Dioxide Polluter” (see blueandgreentomorrow.com), you should always bear in mind that the country has more than four times the States’ population. Chinese coal is still big and stinky indeed, but it has to be said that electricity generation is only a small piece of the big, sustainability-recipe powered change-cake.

What about other ingredients?

Who Pushes China’s Sustainability Transition? Business? Society? State?

Usually, it is three main sectors that hand around the responsibility to move towards sustainability. These are society, business, and politics. In a 20-page paper published by the Journal of Sustainable Development of the Canadian Center of Science and Education, four researchers from Wuhan University of Technology mentioned steps the Chinese business sector has to take. Their “Analysis of the Emerging China Green Era and Its Influence on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development” shows, among other things, how sheerly gigantic the scale of the Chinese economy is. As they define it, a small enterprise has at least 300 employees, and personnel for medium-size companies can reach up to 3000. Still, the so defined SMEs account for 80 percent of all employees and almost 60 percent of China’s GDP. As you see, despite the diverging definitions due to different scales, both in Germany and in China, SMEs are definitely the biggest lever on the green-transformation machine.

In contrast to the common fear I referred to in my introduction, the paper’s abstract finds only good words for the rapidly evolving middle class:

“The raise of Chinese environmentalism is strongly correlated with the economic development of [the] middle class, which involves not only environmental activists, but also social stakeholders and the media. ”

Middle Class-Powered Environmentalism

Earlier in the article, I invented the term change-cake. If we assume that the flour is represented by society, namely the middle class, and sugar by business, especially SMEs, what is the butter? Politics, as in central committee? Well, this picture is, of course, way too simple, apart from the fact that cake is hard to find in China. Chinese prefer rice pudding and they’re much better at making pudding than cake, as everyone knows who has ever tried to find a reasonably good patisserie anywhere in the boundaries of the middle kingdom. So let’s rename the change-cake to switch-pudding, as in switching from fossil, unsustainable resources and practices to renewable and sustainable management methods. The switch-pudding’s rice flour could be the customer-side, especially the well-educated part of the middle class. The Wuhan study says that “stakeholders have started to play an increasing role in firms’ adoption of greener strategies and practices into their management systems. Customers demand for green products, non-governmental organizations campaigns and pollution [scandals] revealed by the media are starting to pressure SMEs to be greener.” The sugar, be it palm sugar or sugar cane or artificial sweetener or whatever, could still be the business sector itself, as sketched above. In contrast to cake, pudding requires no butter, but it does need water and a saucepan, which leads us to the third vital ingredient of a change towards sustainability: someone who mixes everything together thoroughly and keeps a general overview of temperature, taste and zeitgeist. Who is the chef in the contemporary Asian change-cuisine, then?

New Environmental Regulations Every Day

Yes, the regulatory side plays an important role (of course!) and, more than anywhere else, in authoritarian environments like China’s. The strong state – here we are, here comes the central committee and all other governmental institutions:

“Responding to the country’s pollution and the increasing public pressure, the government has started to enforce its environmental laws with the 12th Five-Year Program. New environmental regulations and standards are issued every day, and the number of environmental inspection is increasing to [ensure] firms’ compliance.”

The chefs in the suits set ambitious goals; they really are serious about making the switch-pudding a delicious one by stipulating a 40 percent reduction in carbon intensity by 2020 (see here). Now that sounds like a big decoupling effort, especially considering the 2005-baseline. What are further steps to reach this policy target? What other ingredients do we need? The figure of a 40 percent carbon intensity reduction is impressive (carbon intensity describes how much carbon is emitted for each unit of gross domestic product (GDP)), but the constant economic growth simply outnumbers the savings. In absolute terms, despite the 40% carbon intensity reduction, Chinese carbon emissions will still grow considerably. Even if this goal continues to be matched beyond 2020, an extensive set of effective measures is required.

New Technology or New Institutions?

What are these measures? Is it new technology? Renewable Energy World’s Louis Schwartz thinks so. He expressed the view that China needed a new, game-changing renewable energy technology. Like most of his blog commentators, I disagree. It is not new, magic technology that anyone needs, actually. Efficient applications have been around for thousands of years. We just need the will and the right framework conditions to apply them, in China as well as anywhere else. The Wuhan study names some of the framework conditions SMEs need to make green practices go viral:

“[Chinese SMEs] are still facing numerous challenges that limit their efforts in implementing environmental management [systems]: difficulties to comply with the changing government legislation, inequity in allocation of government subsidies, lack of managers’ engagement to reduce firms’ environmental impact, lack of technological absorptive capacity, lack of financial resources, lack of knowledge regarding environmental management and [channels] to connect with universities or others institutions.”

Another recent report, published by the Chinese government’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and reviewed by Reuters, agreed with these findings. From a more general point of view, it identified a big budget gap for necessary investments in efficiency and renewables. The missing capital should be mobilized from international climate funds, wealth funds and micro-financing. Other strategies the report suggested include further increasing countries’ attractiveness for institutional investors (is that still possible? Hasn’t China always been a paradise for foreign investors?), the introduction of regional carbon markets and a carbon trading commission. The notorious call to cut fossil fuel subsidies is expressed so often, and again in this report, that it seems totally unbelievable that people still subsidize fossil energy. China apparently does. According to the report, two new institutions would fit well into China’s economy, if it was to turn green; I can fully concur with the authors that it would suit the switch-pudding extraordinarily well if the chef fitted it with a thick, national climate-fund topping plus a solid, green-investment bank garnish.

Further Reading

Article image CC B SA 2.0 by danielfoster. It shows a light collector, set up during the world expo in Shanghai.


Tags:

China

climate protection

customer-driven sustainability

green economy

greenhouse gas reduction

sustainable development


1 COMMENT

  1. By Daniel Villar, April 3, 2013

    First of all changes in production structures are faster at every stage of capitalism. So this idea of China changing faster than Western countries is easily understood. Every stage of capitalism is a bend of previous paradigm. Secondly we have reached the peak of cheap petroleum, so new technologies are being applied to get it, shale fracking among them. Furthermore other forms of energy must be obtained, and for that technology has to evolve and there we have seen green energy improvements for the last decade. This is all part of the same idea, we are in a finite world, so better take care of it…Don’t you agree with it?, what do you do in your everyday life concerning this idea?,

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Similar posts

20-20-20 Objectives

2012

3 scopes

3D printing

academia

ACHEMA

acidification

agriculture

air quality

aluminum

Ankara

antarctic ozone hole

apocalypse

assessment

atmospheric carbon measurement

B2B

Bachelor program

background database

BASF

battery change station

Bauwesen

best practice

bike sharing

bio capacity

bio-economy

biocapacity

biodiversity

biological gas treatment

biomass

blogs

BMBF

books

Brazil

BREEAM

building sector

building standards

business opportunity

carbon

carbon accouting

carbon assessment

carbon emissions

carbon footprint

carbon footprinting

carbon free city

carbon intensity

carbon leakage

carbon management

carbon neutral

carbon neutrality

carbon reduction

carbon relocation

carbon tax

carbon-neutral travel

cargo shipping

carton

central america

central asia

certification

CFC

change

chemical engineering

chemical industry

China

circular economy

circular flow economy

city

climate change

climate control

climate impact

climate neutral

climate protection

club of rome

CO2 balance

CO2 reduction

co2-equivalent

CO2-Fußabdruck

cogeneration

collaborative consumption

combined reporting

commercial sector

commons

comparative life cycle assessment

Competence Center

composite indicator

compost

composting

consistency

construction

construction industry

Consumer goods

consumption

container ship

cooperation along product life cycle

copenhagen

corporate carbon footprint

corporate culture

corporate material flow modeling

Corporate Social Responsibility

cost accounting

cost reduction

cost savings

cost-effective measures

Country Attractiveness

CPF

cradle to cradle

creative destruction

Creative Sustainability

Critique of the Green Economy

cross-collaboration

CSR

CSR report

customer-driven sustainability

cycling

dairy

Dashboard of Sustainability

database

Davos

de-growth economy

decarbonization

dematerialization

denmark

design

developing countries

developing world

development cooperation

Dienstleistungen

distributed manufacturing

divestment

domestic fuel consumption

domestic sector

double decoupling

e-car

e-mobility

e-sankey

e!Sankey

earth overshoot day

Earth Sciences

Earth summit

eCarUs

eco city

eco design

eco label

ecodesign

ecoinvent

Ecolabelling

ecologic footprint

ecological footprint

ecological resilience

ecological tax reform

economic indicators

ecosystem disturbance

ecovillage

education

efficiency

efficiency factory

efficiency investment

efficiency measures

efficient construction

Effizienzfabrik

EHS

eLCAr

electric car

emerging economies

emission gap

emission relocation

emissions

EMS

Energieeffizienz

energiewende

energy

energy contracting

energy efficiency

Energy Efficiency Directive

energy efficiency in production

energy efficient production

Energy Intensity by Sector

energy management

energy performance

energy reduction

energy sources

energy transition

engineering excellence

Enhipro

enms

environment

Environment Ministry

environmental accounting

environmental awareness

environmental balance

environmental capital

Environmental Contracting

environmental control

environmental cost accounting

Environmental Engineering

Environmental Goods and Services Sector

Environmental Governance

environmental impact

environmental impact data

environmental labeling

environmental LCA

environmental management

Environmental management accounting

environmental management system

environmental performance

environmental performance indicator

environmental policy

environmental product declaration

environmental product declarations

environmental profit and loss statement

environmental regulation

environmental standard

Environmental Sustainability Index

environmental technology verification

Environmentally Extend Input Output modelling

environmentally friendly raw materials

Environmentally Harmful Subsidy

Environmentally Weighed Material Consumption

EPD

EU

Europe

European Comission

european commission

European Green Cars Initiative

European Sustainable Development Strategy

eutrophication

EVALEAU

events

external effects

fashion

FIFA

fish

fishery

flow sheet simulation

food footprint

food industry

food loss

food production

food sector

food waste

footprinting

forest ecosystems

forestry

fouling

FPC

free trade

freighter travel

full cost accounting

gate-to-gate

gate-to-gate approach

geopolymer cement

Germany

Ghana

GHG emissions

GHG mitigation

GHG reduction

GHG reduction goals

glass

Global Compact

global justice

Global Supply Chains

global warming

global warming potential

GMO

governance

green building

green buildings

green business

green business models

green Christmas

green construction

green consumers

green economy

green growth

green investment

green jobs

green living

green new deal

green paradox

green production

greenhouse gas emissions

greenhouse gas inventory

greenhouse gas protocol

greenhouse gas reduction

greenhouse gases

greenwash

GRI

handprinting

Happy Life Years

harmonization

Harze

HDPE

heat integration

Herman Daly

HFC

holistic approach

holistic sustainability

human development index

HVAC

IEA

IFEU

ifu hamburg

ILCD Handbook

impact assessment

impact category

incentive

Incentive-based pay

incineration

India

industrial ecology

industrial location choice

industrial production

industrial sector

information design

innovation

input output

input-output databases

input-output economics

InReff

insulation

Integrated Reporting

integrated resource efficiency

integrative approach

intellectual property

internalization of externalities

international standards

interplant collaboration

IPCC

ISO

ISO 14000

ISO 14001

ISO 14008

ISO 14015

ISO 14025

ISO 14031

ISO 14040

ISO 14046

ISO 14051

ISO 14064

ISO 14067

ISO 50001

Jevon’s Paradox.

knowledge economy

Konsumgüter

Kooperation entlang des Produktlebenszyklus

Kuznets curve

Kyoto protocol

LCA

LCA data from suppliers

LCA database

LCA Databases

LCA inventory analysis

LCA recommendations

LCA software

LCM Berlin

lean manufacturing

Lebenszyklusperspektive

LEED

life cycle

life cycle analysis

life cycle assessment

life cycle engineering

life cycle inventory

life cycle management

life cycle perspective

life cycle thinking

life style

lifecycle

limits to growth

LinkedIn

living planet report

Long-Term Pay

low carbon economy

low-carbon transport

low-energy house

management models

manufacturing industry

masdar city

master program

material consumption

material efficiency

material flow

material flow accounting

Material Flow Accounts

material flow analysis

material flow balance

material flow cost accounting

material flow cost analysis

Material Flow Management

material flow modeling

material flow networks

material flowcosts

material flows

material footprint

material losses

materialeffizienz

meat

mechanical-biological treatment

media

metal industry

methodology

Mexico

MFA

MFCA

milk

modeling

Monetize external costs

Montreal Protocol

municipal solid waste

Natural Cost Accounting

nature conservation

Nepal

NIMBY

nitrate pollution

nuclear phase out

nutrients balance

nutrients cycle

OECD

OECD Environment Policy Committee

Ökobilanz

Ökobilanzdaten

Ökobilanzdaten vom Zulieferer

Ökobilanzdatenbanken

Ökobilanzierung

Ökolabelling

Ökologischer Fußabdruck

oligolopoly

Online Resource Efficiency Platform OREP

operational efficiency

optimization

organic agriculture

outsourcing

ozone layer recovery

packaging

PAS

passive house

patents

PET

philippines

phosphorus

photovoltaics

pilot program

pinch analysis

plastic industry

policy

policy instruments

politics

pollution haven hypothesis

post growth economy

post oil age

PR

process engineering

process heat

process improvement

process modeling

process modelling

Process Optimization

process system engineering

product carbon footprint

product environmental footprint

Product life time

product stewardship

production

production circle

production planning

production system

Production-based CO2 Productivity

productivity

Produktlebensdauer

protection proprietary data

PUMA

PVC

qatar

quality

quality journalism

quantified self

Rapid prototyping

rebound effect

recycling

refuse-derived fuel plant

remuneration

remuneration of environmental performance

renewable energy

renewable energy in manufacturing

renewable heat

renewable hydrogen

renewable methane

renewable process heat

renewable raw material

Renewable Resources

renewable thermal energy

resilience

resource conflicts

resource efficiency

Resource Efficiency Framework

resource flows

resource politics

resource productivity

resources

ressource efficiency analysis

ressourceneffizienz

retailer

reuse

RFID

Rio+20 summit

rising material demand

risk management

Rolf Dobelli

sankey diagram

saving potentials

savings

Schutz vertraulicher Daten

scope 3

seafood

season's greetings

seattle

services industry

shopping rage

smart grid

smart meter

SMB

social cost accounting

social LCA

social media

social metabolism

Social-Ecological Resilience

software

solar energy

solar heat

solar thermal energy

South Africa

South America

South Korea

soy milk

stakeholder management

standards

statistics

steady state economy

steel

stranded assets

strong sustainability

studies

sufficiency

supermarket chain

sustainability

sustainability consulting

sustainability control

sustainability indicators

sustainability innovation

sustainability management

sustainability performance

sustainability projects

sustainability reporting

Sustainability Science

sustainability strategy

sustainability triangle

sustainable agriculture

sustainable architecture

sustainable business

sustainable construction

sustainable development

sustainable housing

sustainable lifestyle

Sustainable Living

Sustainable Process Index

sustainable resins

Sustainable Resource Management

sustainable transport

sydney

system analysis

tajikistan

telecommunications

Telekommunikation

Tesco

textile industry

textile refinement

Tobias Viere

total material consumption

trade

transparency

transport

transport emissions

transport sector

Treibhauspotenzial

trends

triple bottom line principles

Turkey

Umberto

umberto for carbon footprint

umberto user workshop

Umweltbilanz

Umweltbundesamt

umweltfreundliche Rohmaterialien

university

upcycling

urban carbon emissions

VDMA

Vélib’

vernon curve

vertical cooperation

Vertragsnaturschutz

virtual water

waste air treatment

waste cycle

waste disposal

waste hierarchy

waste management

waste prevention

wastewater

wastewater treatment

water abstraction rate

Water Consumption by Sector

water extraction

water filter

water footprint

Water Management

water stress

web 2.0

Wellbeing Index

wind gas

wind power

wine

with both eyes open

working conditions

world cup

world statistics day

world vegan day

YET

zero carbon

zero carbon city

zero emission mobility

zero growth

zero growth economy