November 2010 Archives

low carbon d.JPG

China's new national 2011-2015 economic plan--essentially also its green blueprint--is now starting to be unveiled, then will be finalized by the People's Congress in March. China is aiming at reforming the world's second largest economy by optimizing it for low-carbon, resource efficient and urban climate change-adapted performance, as it takes on 400 to 700 million more people in its teeming cities as part of the world's most ambitious socio-economic transformation.

"China is the earliest developing country in the world to map out its plan for ecological growth," said Wang Ronghua, President of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, at the Fourth World Forum on China Studies, held earlier in November. "It will be a daunting task to restructure. There is a huge amount of funding available for this effort. This is being done because in the next three decades China will not be able to support 1.3 billion or more people." (China currently has more than 1.33 billion people.)

The new national "12th Five-Year Plan" (twelfth, that is, since formation as the People's Republic in 1949), covers its industrial, economic and social development. The gist of the new plan:  a new focus on quality of development rather than on quantity only. China wants to strengthen the nation's low-carbon economy while trying to repair the extensive environmental and human health damage it has sustained during its 30-year race to lead global industrial production.

The 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) included goals of lowering energy consumption per unit of GDP. For China's provincial and city governments that means energy consumption per unit of GDP must decrease by 20 percent in 2010 compared to 2005. 

With its new national plan, China is now building on the goal of energy efficiency with a more full-scale sustainability agenda, featuring reduced carbon intensity (cutting carbon emissions per every unit of economic output, or GDP) combined with overall environmental restoration and management practices. This focus will increase investments in renewables, information and communications technologies, advanced transportation and materials, water supply and treatment technologies (including using plants for bioremediation), and air and water quality. In other words, China is trying to improve its quality of life, which would benefit investment, tourism, and ecosystem services, not to mention the health of humans, along with animal and marine species.

Part of this strategy rests upon moving the nation from being "factory to the world" to becoming a provider of services such as information and communications technologies, financial services, and other less-polluting business sectors, while also maintaining a global lead in manufacturing clean energy and other "value-added" technologies for export.

Draft language from the new Plan that was read to my Institute for Strategic Resilience (ISR) colleagues and me during my recent visit to China includes the directive for government officials to comprehensively, "Use technology and administration to transform mode of development to an eco-friendly and low-carbon lifestyle. Ensure that economic development confirms with environmental protection."

It was announced last week that the nation is also preparing to comprehensively monitor chemical and organic pollutants in both the air and water: currently only 200 pollutants are monitored versus 1,200 in the United States. Ambitious goals, yes, but China appears to be willing to attempt to back them on the ground.

The country began this summer a national low-carbon pilot program focused on five provinces and eight cities. Through the pilot programs, it is attempting to leverage best-of-breed strategies and tactics from localized sustainability plans, projects and methods. This simultaneous top-down (12th Five Year Plan) and regional approach (pilots) will likely make China even more competitive in the development of new clean energy technologies and services.

China has already surpassed all other nations in the production of PV solar and wind technologies: one showcase city is the renewable production center of Baoding, a city of one million near Beijing with more than 20,000 new clean energy jobs in three years. Baoding is the smallest of China's eight pilot low carbon cities. The largest pilot is almost-megacity Shenzhen, with a population of nine million. In all, the pilot provinces and cities comprise 27 percent of the nation's population and 36 percent of China's national Gross Domestic Product. China is providing incentives for its cleantech companies through subsidies to manufacturers of solar film, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, and it is offering subsidies to consumers to purchase electric cars.

China announced December 4 that it is bolstering its renewables to get 500 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable power by 2020, which will be about one third of its total national power production by that year. This includes adding 125 GW (from 25 GW now) of wind power, and adding almost 20 GW of solar, from half a Gigawatt now. Other areas that will be boosted under the plan include ethanol, biodiesel, biomass and biogas production.

My observations and findings are fresh from a visit during October-November. I was a UN delegate to a one-day summit on "Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development," which was held as part of the closing ceremonies of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai ("Better City, Better Life"), the largest world expo ever in terms of size, attendance, global participation and investment. The development of low carbon and green technologies, along with public education on moving toward more sustainable behaviors, was the key theme in the four pavilions sponsored by China and visited by tens of millions of Chinese citizens.

At the headquarters of its all-powerful State Council in Beijing, my ISR colleagues and I met with national government and academic sector experts about development of China's green economic research and planning. We were briefed at the State Council by economic, eco-city and low-carbon experts from the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a top national think tank affiliated with the State Council. Our itinerary included a visit with government officials in a medium-sized city for a glimpse of how local governments in China are already attempting to balance sustainability management with economic development. More about the local angle in my next post.

During the excellent Fourth World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai, we were invited to present along with 20 academic, corporate and government experts on "Green Development." (More than 300 China experts participated in the overall forum, most of them from China.)

At the opening of the Green Development Sub Forum, Professor Wang Ronghua, former President of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a well-known editor on Deng Xiaoping's theories, ticked down a list of the nation's current state, making it obvious why China is moving toward comprehensive sustainability planning, measurement and management:

Water and Wastewater: "Fresh water supply is in danger because of rapid depletion--heavy industrial growth has caused the consumption of too much water." Wang Ronghua said. "China is one the most water scarce countries in the world. Lakes and rivers are viewed as sinks in which to discharge wastewater. Hebei province's lakes were once beautiful. Now they are highly lethal, the same with the Yellow and other rivers. Fresh water will become more scarce than oil in China, which is an inconceivable future."

Resource and Energy Use: "The consumption of mineral resources is occurring faster than production because of crude modes of production rather than making better uses of natural resources. China uses 17 percent of the world's total energy supply: it used 2.8 billion tons of coal in 2009, which will rise to 10 billion tons by 2030, which means China will rely on imported energy as it only produces four tons per year." (From 2007 to 2009, China's moved to being a net coal importer for the first time in its history. Oil imports also reached 52 percent in 2009, while its new car sales surpassed those of the US for the first time the same year. National car ownership will multiply by a factor of three or more between now and 2020.)

Land Use and Planning: "There are dilemmas about how to protect and make better use of land resources. Too much land is consigned for development and conceded, especially in coastal and eastern China. In Shanghai, five years' supply of land planned for new development has been used up in one year."

Waste: "Ninety percent of urban waste is landfilled. Garbage is increasing at 10 percent annually--out of six hundred big cities, one third are besieged by garbage and waste."

Air Pollution and Climate Change: "Acid rain and CO2 emissions will double by 2020.  High-polluting industries are also pillar industries," Wang Ronghua concluded. (Beijing's air pollution recently was said to be at a "crazy bad" level on Twitter by the US Embassy, which was later deleted and changed to "beyond index.") The Asian Development Bank estimated in 2008 that more than half of the world's increase in greenhouse gases through 2027 will come from Asian cities, a majority of that increase from the cities of China.

The most urgent challenge will be getting changes made at local levels. Ronghua said that the "costs of breaking the law are too low, there is not enough enforcement or enforcement is uneven with the same violation receiving different punishment."

Through its State Council and its operational arm, the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), China is actively considering how it can develop models and indicators that will guide ecological restoration and green economic development in conjunction with traditional economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As part of its low carbon pilot province and city programs, regional and local governments are pledging to reduce carbon intensity, or carbon emissions per unit of GDP economic output, by up to 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. (See today's advertising supplement from China Daily, which also appeared on p. A12 of the New York Times).

There is a growing acknowledgment in China that economic growth cannot be an all-consuming goal. For 30 years, with an average annual national growth rate of 10 percent, China's GDP has for many years surpassed growth of other nations, but at what cost?

Zhou Fengqi, Director of the Center for Eco-Economy and Sustainable Development at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, spoke of the need for systemic change in China: "China needs to change from the consumption of products to consumption of services."

Exactly how China will achieve its ambitious goals for a greener national economy will now emerge from numerous releases and announcements surrounding the new 12th Five Year Plan. Key to its success will be how systemically national leadership can help develop objective measures for provincial and city leaders that provide clear and consistent goals for industries, business and citizens.

It's time for China to look at its cities, communities and centers of expertise for leadership and scalable solutions to help reverse the degradation of nature and quality of human life--along with the damage to its economy--that has occurred (or will occur) because of air, water and soil pollution, and global climate change. While many restorative activities will help bring new economic growth opportunities, they will also ensure that China has a base of natural resources for its cities that can sustain a viable quality of life.

The country must now decouple its economic growth from manufacturing while incorporating a more diversified (and less material intensive) base, in order to remain economically viable in the future. Said Wang Ronghua, "Instead of only focusing on GDP measurements, the government needs to provide more parameters on ecology and living standards, including improvement of culture."

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.   


SHANGHAI--The Shanghai Expo officially closed yesterday with pomp, circumstance, and a confirmation of the city as the planet's primary hope for a low-carbon future.

"Eco-friendly development and dissemination of renewable energy sources and new materials will influence the way we live and will lead the course of industrial development in the future," said China's Premier Wen Jiabao to the closing Expo Summit contingent of domestic and foreign dignitaries (eight heads of state), Nobel Prize winners and business leaders. 

The World Expo, the world's largest in history with 73 million attending, for the first time in 159 years focused on cities, sustainable ones that is. China's plans for 350-600 million more urban residents by 2050 threatens to tip the earth's scales in terms of climate change and the economy so much that China is now focused on a fifth global industrial wave: the low-carbon or green economy.

"The low-carbon economy is a new industrial revolution," said Sir Nicholas Stern, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. "Low-carbon growth is cleaner, safer, far more attractive while high-carbon growth will kill itself. China is well placed for this industrial revolution."

Stern, author of the groundbreaking 2006 "Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change", was referring to China's new national pilot program announced thus summer by its all-powerful National Development Reform Commission for five low-carbon provinces and eight low-carbon cities.

One of the low-carbon cities, Baoding, for instance, within the last three years added 20,000 new jobs in wind, PV solar ( the city of one million is home to Yingli Solar, among other renewable start-ups), and other renewable energy technologies. It's also the site of large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy installations in everything from building-integrated solar to streetlights. The new national pilot programs are expected to pick up the pace and provide a template for the rest of the nation's provincial and city low-carbon transformations.

Throughout its six-month run, the Shanghai Expo featured numerous forums on urban sustainability. Meanwhile, its pavilions employed many new green technologies in design and architecture. More than 500 new technologies in solar, heat pumps, energy efficiency, transportation and advanced material were developed as part of the Expo, according to ShiFang Tang, Technical Office Vice Director for the Shanghai Expo Bureau.

The massive China Pavilion and the country's "theme" pavilions on sustainable cities and urban best practices repeatedly and effectively emphasized how the challenges of climate change, pollution and growing consumer consumption can be met with more advanced urban planning, green technology innovation and citizen education.

The displays and creativity were the best I've experienced, anywhere, in terms of sustainability information, education and multi-media. For instance, one entire building was devoted to four real families living in the cities of four different contenents, Australia, North America, Africa and China. The exhibit demonstrated through video, waxed figures (the mostly Chinese crowds especially loved these) and other physical displays demonstrating how each family lived and what they did for work, fun, school. At the same time it taught people experiencing the multi-level walk-through how much each family consumed in terms of resources, even land, and how that impacted climate change: carbon or ecological footprinting education for the masses.

The takeaway is that China is serious about climate change as a threat to the world and itself, and it intends to capitalize on this inevitability with all its might. China's National Development Reform Commission's low carbon pilot projects comprise 27 percent of the nation's population, and about one-third of its total economic output. The new low-carbon pilot projects span not only provincial and city planning and operations, but also industrial, economic and social planning, including education. In short, the whole ball of wax: "China will accelerate the model of sustainable development where nature, the planet and people can survive and thrive," said China's Premier Wen Jiabao at the Expo Summit's closing ceremonies.

It will be a tough path, indeed. Only one day after industrial controls were lifted that were in place for six months during the Expo in order to reduce regional air pollution, the air quality in Shanghai has already gone from crystal clear to disturbingly smoggy. As Stern pointed out to a rapt audience at the Shanghai Expo Summit, China will need to reduce its projected total greenhouse gas emissions from 35 billion tons in 2030 to 20 billion tons by 2050 if the world will have any chance of realizing the 2 degree Celsius maximum global temperature increase agreed to with the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

China, if it continues on its current trajectory of yearly greenhouse gas emission increases, will by 2030, according to Stern, account for 50 percent of the world's greenhouse gas "budget" under Copenhagen while being home to only 17-18 percent of the world's population.

"New green investments will help China continue its lead in the green race that has already begun," Stern predicted. "Green policies are at the heart of the 12th Five-year Plan (the nation's economic master plan for the near future, a new version which was recently drafted), showing the world what is possible."

Meanwhile, Shanghai, China's largest and most cosmopolitan city, is deconstructing many of its Expo buildings for reuse in other parts of the nation, and also for other bidders outside China so that its Expo theme of "Better City, Better Life" gets a second and maybe even more lives. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 




About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

Follow Green Flow on Twitter

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2010 is the previous archive.

December 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Add to Technorati Favorites
Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Locations of visitors to this page
Powered by Movable Type 4.1