Innovative plans map new path for developing nations
China’s efforts to balance sustainable, innovative economic growth with environmental protection is drawing a road map for other developing nations to follow, according to Indian consultant Pavan Sukhdev.
“By championing the green economy, China has embarked on an unenviable and rarely trodden path, the results of which will be the foundation of future growth models,” says Sukhdev, the founder of GIST Advisory in Mumbai.
He believes the efforts and support from the Chinese government show the confidence it has in devising innovative strategies that promote sustainable economic growth.
GIST Advisory, an offshoot of the Green Indian States Trust, an NGO promoting sustainable development, helps governments and corporations to evaluate their impact on humans and the natural environment.
Sukhdev says China has taken up its responsibility as the world’s second-largest economy by setting the right tone for future development, as evidenced in its 13th FiveYear Plan (2016-20), which puts environmental conservation ahead of economic growth.
The plan comes at a time when there is a strong push to jump-start the global economy. However, he says several United Nations reports have used China as an example to show that this growth model can be achieved with the right political will.
“China has a big population and is seen as the world’s factory, which comes with a whole range of environmental and ecological challenges,” says Sukhdev, a goodwill ambassador for the UN Environment Programme. “But we can see that the country is well informed about the consequences of the ‘ brown economy’ and is building a resources saving and environmentally friendly society using well-researched concepts. And it is working.”
The 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) includes policies targeting renewable energy, energy efficiency and industrial production. Reports also indicate the country has met, or even surpassed, carbon emissions reduction goals in the 12th Five-Year Plan, and that the nation’s renewable energy industry is already booming.
“China has about 60 percent of the world’s solar heaters. Its solar energy industry is ahead and will probably dominate the global market,” Sukhdev says. “The green economy is opening up opportunities for Chinese entrepreneurs.”
Subsequently, he says, China is at the forefront of promoting capacity building to support the green economy, an area in which many countries are failing as they focus on fears of job losses and a small global market, rather than taking note of consumer trends.
“The millennial generation is interested in a cleaner and sustainable system. This means one cannot continue investing in the brown economy. China is preparing for this new era.”
There are challenges, of course. China’s coal industry, for example, employs more than 5 million people, so the transition to green energy needs to generate sufficient alternative jobs.
Nevertheless, China has a leg up compared with other advanced developing nations, such as India, Sukhdev says.
“There are many examples, but the one I like best is solar technology. Five years ago, I led a UNEP study (that found) one success story was solar heating in China, with about 40 million households using solar panels to heat water rather than coal.
“The green method is definitely cheaper and friendlier to the growing elderly population affected by rheumatoid arthritis and in need of viable, cheap heating solutions.”
Such technologies could easily be deployed in Africa, he says, adding that the continent presents a big market for this industry and that Chinese companies are uniquely positioned to catalyze a green revolution there.
Africa’s edge comes from its ability to start from scratch with minimal disruptions, he says. “Countries can start anew and decide on a new direction, away from the brown economy.”
Despite the growing appetite recently among African leaders to invest in coal power, Sukhdev says China’s renewable technologies, and its own trajectory toward the green economy, could prove invaluable.
“The brown economy offers visible benefits, but the costs are hidden. In the green economy, the results and costs are visible. This is what leaders need to weigh when making decisions.”
Sukhdev is a board member of the Global Reporting Initiative, a network that helps developing nations to evaluate the risks of foreign investment in the extraction of natural resources. About 25,000 corporations and nations follow its guidelines, including some Chinese companies.
The guidelines are applicable for African states preparing for industrial takeoff, he says. “Governments have to recognize that investment is not a gift, but a means to an end, which should not inflict extra costs on a nation with national resources.”
While the numbers of international funds and green projects are on the upswing, Sukhdev says regional institutions such as the African Development Bank are surpassing their goals, an indication of positive momentum toward the green economy in Africa.
He says a positive economic and social revolution is waiting to happen on the continent, and partnerships can make it happen faster. As part of the UNEP’s Partnership For Action on Green Economy initiative, countries can draw lessons and find models that work, he adds.
“It creates learning opportunities. No one country has achieved complete success, but everyone is moving forward.”
One member of the initiative is Jiangsu province in eastern China. Nestled in the Yangtze River Delta, the province enjoyed an economic boom that took a heavy toll on its environment. It has since introduced stringent measures to reverse the trend and has turned to the UNEP for support.
“I believe the success that will be recorded (in Jiangsu) will be replicated in other provinces, which will also join the program.”
Sukhdev is optimistic of the initiative’s success as it is based on partnerships and modeled on achieving economic transformation. “It’s finally all about the economy,” he adds.
Pavan Sukhdev says he believes China is on the right path toward balancing economic development and environmental conservation.