Against all odds, it is China the country that is greening up the planet. From the most polluted nation to the “Green Long March”: how the PRC managed to change its environmental history
The world is going to be a greener planet thanks to China and India. Against all odds, the countries that contributed the most to the world’s pollution are now taking the greatest efforts to improve the quality of the earth’s future.
The Dragon 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.
While the White House announces to withdraw from the Paris agreements and Australia and Brazil decide not to cooperate on the issue of climate change, the People’s Republic reiterates the country’s intent to respond to global climate disruption with many green-oriented political decisions in what can be called China’s “Green Long March”.
Nevertheless, the fact that Beijing is investing so much into renewables and in promoting a sustainable way of life should not come as a surprise. The Middle Kingdom paid, in fact, the highest price for its fast economic expansion.
© Wikimedia Commons. Windfarm in Shanxi. If at the end of the 1950s Mao Zedong gave birth to the Great Leap, in recent years Xi Jinping’s China has been fielding the “green long march”.
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 the Dragon aims to be.
The main move of the country’s “Green Long March” has been the switch from coal to natural gas to power its energy needs, both industrial and household. Natural gas emits 50% less CO2 than coal and Beijing has just overtaken Japan as the world’s top importer of it while upgrading its infrastructure and pipeline networks.
Aiming at building a sustainable environment, in January 2018, China announced it would no longer import plastic waste from the 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.
Moreover, today, five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturers are Chinese as well as five of the largest wind turbine manufacturers, with the aim of reaching 15% of the country’s needs covered. 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.
In order to reach its goals, in 2018, the Chinese government also approved three sustainable development zones.
Guilin, situated in the North-Eastern Autonomous Region of Guangxi, is one of these three areas and it will particularly focus on innovations to face the threat of desertification. The capital of Shanxi, Taiyuan, instead, will target air and water pollution to foster innovative solutions relying on resource extraction.
But it is Shenzhen the most significant zone as it will integrate advanced technologies in sewage treatment, waste management, and ecological healing while using artificial intelligence at the service of resource management and against pollution.
In addition, the Chinese metropolis located in the southern region of Guandong is the first city in the world where old buses and taxis have been fully replaced with electric vehicles. Actually, Shenzhen hosts 16,000 buses and 22,000 taxis, all completely electrified and almost 40,000 charging stations have been set up throughout the city.
Shenzhen has become the symbol of the Chinese transition towards electric employing 99% of the world’s electric buses.
© Forbes. Datong Panda Power Plant, Shanxi. The Panda Green Energy Group has built a photovoltaic system shaped like a giant panda, the first animal to benefit from PRC’s green policies.
Today more than 30 Chinese cities are organizing to make important innovations in this sector. In particular, cities such as Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Dongguan, Foshan, Nanjing, and Hangzhou, as well as the Shaanxi and Shandong regions aim for a total conversion to electricity by 2020.
In Dezhou, in Shandong province, a five thousand square meter residential complex entirely powered by solar energy has been built by former oil engineer Huang Ming. This Solar Valley is recognized as the pilot project for the Chinese green urbanization policy.
The extraordinary nature of the plan lies in the creation of hanging gardens and green spaces that were supposed to help the small oasis to contribute to the fight against pollution. However, the emerging trend towards electric made the Solar Valley into a mere tourist destination rather than an effective site.
Another example of urban renovation is the contract signed by the Italian firm Stefano Boeri Architetti and the Administration of Liuzhou, in the southern province of Guanxi, for the construction of a “forest city“. The name derives from the will to cover the city buildings with over a million plants and to plant 40 thousand new trees.
According to the architect, the vertical forest is not only an aesthetic concept but it is a real tool in the fight against smog as it is a targeted intervention to bring small polluted towns back to life. Based on the data provided by previous experiences, the buildings would aspire 25 tons of carbon dioxide and produce about 60 kg of oxygen per day.
In the rush to boost the economy, cities with millions of inhabitants were born with highly polluted air. Therefore, China has finally realized that it has to choose a new model of urban planning, more sustainable and green. Hence the decision to invest in sustainable architecture other than renewable energy.
All these projects are also supported by the Chinese largest reforestation plan in the world. Indeed, greening initiatives against deforestation have been established on many fronts since the People’s Republic of China was founded.
Over the years, China has established over 2,750 nature reserves, accounting for 15% of the national land area with the aim to maintain the ecosystem and provide shelter for flora and fauna. Moreover, in 1979, the Three-North Shelter Forest Program was launched, a project that covers more than 40% of the country’s land area with the goal to fight desertification and air pollution by 2050.
Nevertheless, the building of an Ecological Civilization has managed to raise awareness among Chinese people, who actively join the “Green Long March”. Statistics show that China produces about 10 billion tons of solid waste every year, therefore, it requires the participation of every Chinese citizen to win the battle against climate change.
Places like the Maowusu Desert in Shaanxi province and Inner Mongolia autonomous region, once one of the largest deserts in the country, have been literally greened by local farmers. While three generations of locals in Saihanba in Hebei planted the largest artificial forest on earth, covering an area of 200 square km, which now represents the “green lung” in the north.
© Unsplash. Thanks to the use of advanced technologies like AI and IoT, China made it possible to contribute easily to recycling via mobile apps for waste sorting and disposal.
China’s technology giants also play a vital role in sustainable development. Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba are among the world’s top internet companies that are accelerating the pace of change helping to improve the waste recycling industry.
For example, Ant Financial, a banking subsidiary of Alibaba, is a founding partner of the Green Digital Finance Alliance, which aims to use digital technology to advance green finance. Over 200 million of Ant Financial’s users signed up to Ant Forest, the app that helps to track users’ carbon footprint and whose approach had already saved over 150,000 tonnes of CO2.
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 and building of a new sustainable future is the only possible scenario.
Compared to other countries, the Middle Kingdom will be the world’s largest trash generator by 2030 but at the same time, it is fighting more than anyone else against climate change. From the “Green Long March,” we should expect not only new creative innovations to face the challenge but we can also hope for a greener future.
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