Business / Economy

China's opportunity to reinforce a sustainable tomorrow

(China Daily) Updated: 2015-09-09 09:51

Editor's note: More than 1,700 participants from 90 countries are attending the Summer Davos in Dailian, Liaoning province, from Wednesday to Friday. Their discussions will focus on transformational science, industry disruption, economic uncertainty, China's "new normal", environmental boundaries and "being human". Below one participant looks at the influence of technology and innovation on economic growth.

In the runup to the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, much attention has focused on the US-China alignment on climate change. The joint announcement made by the two countries last year has been lauded as the watershed moment when the world's two largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gases began leading the international community in tackling rising emissions.

China's opportunity to reinforce a sustainable tomorrow

By 2025, the United States has pledged to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28 percent of 2005 levels, while China has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030. In June, Premier Li Keqiang announced goals to extend China's cut in carbon intensity to about 60 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

China has made public its climate intentions well in advance of the Paris conference. Avoiding a repeat of Copenhagen in 2009-the previous attempt to secure a global agreement on climate change-is clearly a must, but economic shifts are also fast reshaping China's outlook on climate change.

In recent months, China's leaders have coined the phrase "the new normal" when describing the changing realities for the future of China's economy. This vision depicts China's transition into a period of slower but more sustainable growth, driven by domestic consumption rather than exports and investment.

Evidence of the environmental damages caused by the country's untrammelled economic activities abound. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, only one-tenth of the major cities in China that are monitored met the national clean air standards in 2014. The recent tragedy in Tianjin further highlighted the triple threats posed by water, air and soil pollution.

Clearly, getting China cleaner is a formidable challenge. The legal framework continues to play catch-up, and enforcement remains very difficult. The MEP said that there were over 25,000 violations and 9,324 companies shut down since the new Environmental Protection Law took effect this year.

Despite the recent amendments to the air pollution law, increased resources for environmental inspection and a reported 100 million yuan ($15.73 million) invested in an online monitoring system, it will not be easy to rein in polluting industries.

The heart of the matter is how fast China can move away from its current nationwide coal-dependent development trajectory to avoid further environmental damage.

New coal-fired power plants may have been banned in the more advanced eastern parts, with the introduction of more stringent air quality targets introduced, but the planned ultra-high voltage transmission lines to the eastern and southeast regions are still under consideration, which would likely lead to coal power generation in the less-developed provinces feeding the rest of the country in the years ahead.

However, there is promise that China will be able to wean itself away from its coal dependency. China is no stranger to policies and incentive plans that drive clean energy investments.

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