Is China’s Ecological Civilization Going to Save the World?

25/01/2019

Despite Trump’s step back on the fight against climate change, China is building a new form of society that combines the economic growth with sustainability. This Ecological Civilization aims at restoring harmony between humans and nature

 

While thinking about Ecological Civilization, people often think about the degrowth trend that is recently catching on Western countries. The notion of civilization, in fact, goes with that of development and progress, and it is opposed to the notion of wild nature.

The humankind civilized through the process of building houses, building tools, vehicles, skyscrapers, and factories. People became civilized by overtaking nature thanks to engineering and technology, therefore creating pollution and deforestation. So how does ecology fit in?

As strange as it may seem to many, the concept of Ecological Civilization comes from the People’s Republic of China, whose environmental crisis is well-known. However, while Donald Trump announces to withdraw from the Paris agreements and Australia and Brazil decide not to cooperate on the issue of climate change, Xi Jinping reiterates the country’s intent to respond to global climate disruption with a new form of human civilization, the one based on ecology and sustainability.

 

Ecological civilization - tea leaf - cifnews

© Pixabay. “Green is gold” is one of the common Chinese lexicons of Ecological Civilization that describes environmental protection in terms of economic value.

 

The fact that China is placing itself at the frontline of promoting a sustainable way of development should not come as a surprise at all. The Middle Kingdom paid, in fact, the highest price for its fast economic expansion.

Since 1978, the Dragon has undergone extraordinary economic growth lifting over 800 million people out of poverty, surpassing the United States in retail sales and becoming the second world’s largest economy in less than 40 years.

The environmental consequences of this rapid growth have been numerous such as high greenhouse gas emissions, water contaminated by toxic wastes and cities dangerously poisoned by air pollution. Meanwhile, a huge number of forests were lost giving space to great desertification and soil erosion.

China has thus come to the point where the quest for a sustainable green future was not an option. The environmental problems had to be addressed in order to build the long-awaited successful modern superpower China aims to be.

Therefore, today the Ecological Civilization is one of the core concepts of Chinese politics. Since the former President Hu Jintao promoted the 生态文明 for the first time in 2007, the idea of building a developed ecological society became the country’s main goal.

 

“We will never again seek economic growth at the cost of the environment,” said Xi Jinping as early as 2013.

 

Since 2007, Ecological Civilization aimed to achieve the country’s economic and environmental interests by achieving harmony between people and nature. Xi Jinping himself often addresses this issue in his speeches promoting a “green, low-carbon and circular development” while punishing the activities that damage the environment. In short, the Dragon’s goal is “to build an ecological civilization that will benefit generations to come,” as said by the President during the National Congress of the Communist Party in 2017.

With this aim in mind, in January 2018, China announced it would no longer import plastic waste from US and EU. This was notable since China has been the world’s dumping ground receiving 25% of global plastic and paper scrap for over 25 years.

In addition, in 2017, Chinese investment in renewables was up 58% from the previous year while those in the US dropped by 6% and in EU by 36%.

Due to the massive amount of investments allocated in the sector, the country became the leader for renewable energy investments in 2017, accounting for almost 50% of the global total. Today, five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturers are Chinese as well as five of the largest wind turbine manufacturers.

However, it is in the transportation sector that China is going to reach the most successful and visible achievements. For what concerns the production of electric vehicles, Beijing is, in fact, quickly becoming a worldwide leader. Today, the Middle Kingdom produces more all-electric cars, buses, and trucks than the rest of the world combined and by 2021, China is expected to produce 70% of the global electric vehicles batteries thus helping to reduce both pollution and oil consumption.

 

Ecological civilization - shenzhen electric buses - cifnews

© Weibo. Shenzhen replaced its whole bus fleet with electric vehicles and it now aims to switch from diesel to an entirely electric transport system.

 

Environmental groups, active at every level, began to spread all over the country, often created by members of the Communist Youth League.

But the 2010 Shanghai Expo’s motto “Better city, better life城市,让生活更美好 shows how the country’s intent to better people’s quality of life within healthier cities has a longer history.

The Expo pieces of furniture were already made of recycled material while all the installations found life again after the exhibition. In that occasion, the Dragon wanted to show the world how the harmony among people, nature and the city life has to be pursued and how it can be pursued.

All these Chinese Ecological Civilization policies clearly affect both the global market and the world. For instance, the ban on the import of solid waste from foreign countries completely changed the global recycling market status quo forcing developed economies to rethink their consumption and recycling systems fast.

At the same time, Beijing’s investment in renewables will positively influence the energy sector and the geopolitical priorities as the electrification of the transports will surely shape global energy markets in the future.

 

PRC’s total investment in renewables — at a record $126.6 billion —  let Beijing became the largest investor in renewable energy.

 

Therefore, Ecological Civilization embodies both a response to the environmental crisis in China as well as a broader vision for the global future.

Nowadays, China already invested over $126.6 billion in renewable energy as part of its Belt and Road Initiative positioning itself as a leader in the climate space. The law passed in 2014 to cut CO2 emissions from coal power plants has already resulted in a 14% reduction in 2018. Then, in Shenzhen, the public transport is entirely electric and the government will install over 500,000 public charging piles across the country in the next two years.

In the meantime, China is also going to double the previous target for solar power production and it has already started the world’s largest emission trading system, actually directed at power generation plants that will be extended to the entire economy by 2020.

All these projects are also supported by the Chinese largest reforestation project in the world, obviously.

 

Ecological civilization - UN Environment Day - China - Cifnews

© UN.org. The UN China, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, and the Tongzhou District Government jointly celebrated 2017 World Environment Day with the theme of “Connecting people with Nature”.

 

“The world has never before seen a climate program on this scale. It is important that the world’s largest emitter should lead on climate, and that is precisely what China is doing by launching its national emissions trading system,” said Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The harmony between humans and nature is the base of Chinese culture and tradition but the Dragon realized before anyone else that environmental degradation was a threat not only to the well-being of people but also to a modern development “with Chinese characteristics”.

The actual war on pollution is thus started and the PRC became the final leader against the climate crisis. The economic slowdown is, in fact, the sign that Chinese priority has changed: from the quantity goal as the “factory of the world”, the PRC now aims to the quality in both the production and the people’s lives.

Due to its fast development, China is the country that suffered the most because of the environmental crisis. Therefore, if Beijing wants to pursue its goal to become the worldwide leader it used to be, the building of a new sustainable future is the only possible scenario.

The Dragon is thus creating a new kind of Socialist country in which the market economy and consumption are able to grow along with science and technology in harmony with nature and the environment.

While the US is moving in opposite directions, the Party’s efforts in the issue of climate change are moving the country towards a Beautiful China by 2035 and towards a healthy world in the near future.

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