Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Cities lead China toward green future

By Gerhard Stahl (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-23 07:43

China's environmental crisis and its dependency on coal for generating energy have been the favorite topic of discussions. But do we know China is by far the biggest producer of wind energy? Or, is it known China has also become the top solar energy producer?

The fact is that China has truly shifted its economic planning toward a green future.

President Xi Jinping's speech at the Paris climate change conference in December last year showed China had become the strong partner of the international community for ecological transformation. Xi's active diplomacy in the run-up to the climate conference, including his direct discussion on climate policy with US President Barack Obama, prepared the ground for the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by world leaders at the UN Headquarters in New York on Friday.

But the Paris success is not the end but only the beginning of the transformation process. To achieve a low-carbon economy, we need concrete, sometimes painful actions. The Paris objective to limit temperature rise to 2 Celsius demands a policy change toward green economy in developed and developing countries. China, given its understanding of the needs of developing countries and South-South cooperation, can play a very important role as a bridge between the developed and the developing world.

More importantly, China can show how the development of the most populous country can be achieved in a more sustainable manner, and that ecological civilization is the model for the future.

Based on current planning, China will achieve its carbon emission peak in 2030. But efforts must be made to advance this deadline. Additional measures should be taken in areas such as energy-saving, improving energy efficiency, development of non-fossil fuels, limiting the use of coal and developing clean coal technologies, and large-scale afforestation.

Good political intentions, even good environmental laws, are not enough, if people, businesses and local authorities do not translate them into action. Implementing green economy rules and taking concrete actions are the key to success.

I attended a conference on green development recently at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, where the follow-up to the Paris Climate Agreement was discussed and outstanding environmental projects supported by Chinese foundations presented.

Shenzhen is a great place to see how quickly China can move. Shenzhen started as a "factory of the world". After China launched its reform and opening-up, Shenzhen became the first special economic zone. Since the city produced goods to be exported around the world, pollution was the unavoidable price to pay.

But today, Shenzhen is a wealthy metropolis the size of Paris, and its economy is no more dominated by manufacturing. Instead information and communication technology companies, service providers, innovative entrepreneurs, universities and research institutes have become the drivers of its economic growth. The city has replaced 15,000 petrol-engine taxis with China-made electric vehicles and it will use waste to produce energy.

In 2020, one of the largest waste-treatment facilities in the world will become operational. The facility, designed by Danish architects, will use the most sophisticated equipment in waste incineration to burn about one-third of the waste generated in the city each year. In addition, efforts are being made to develop a circular economy to reduce waste and save energy.

Innovation-centric companies have developed smart sensors to ensure energy is consumed only when needed. And in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, an urban pilot project has started to build a low-carbon community for 300,000 residents, which could become a model for the rest of the world.

But Shenzhen occupies only the fourth place in the China Urban Sustainable Development Report prepared by the UN Development Programme. Beijing and Shanghai rank higher because of their more efficient use of resources. This is to say, despite the path to ecological civilization being long, China is truly entrenched on it.

(China Daily 04/23/2016 page5)

Most Viewed Today's Top News