A green new deal for China and the world?

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Views - Ernesto Gallo is an hon­orary re­search as­so­ciate at UCL, Lon­don, and Gio­vanni Bi­ava is an en­ergy and gas con­sul­tant at Ex­e­len group.

Ahead of the UN cli­mate change con­fer­ence in Bonn from Nov 6 to 17, global at­ten­tion was fo­cused on the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, where Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping laid out China’s blue­print for “green devel­op­ment”, which de­voted long chap­ters to the “en­vi­ron­ment”, “ecol­ogy” and “green”.

In fact China’s em­pha­sis on “green devel­op­ment” is far from new. Ear­lier this year, Xi de­fended the 2015 Paris Agree­ment in a speech at the United Na­tions, in strik­ing con­trast to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s well-known cli­mate change skep­ti­cism (or “cli­mate change de­nial”) and the Euro­pean Union’s in­ef­fec­tive­ness.

Xi raised sim­i­lar points in his key speech at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos in Jan­uary, say­ing it is im­por­tant to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment while pur­su­ing eco­nomic and so­cial progress to achieve har­mony be­tween man and na­ture, and har­mony be­tween man and so­ci­ety.

It is ad­mirable that China is will­ing and ready to ad­dress cru­cial chal­lenges for both China and the world, and to lead a sus­tain­able model of glob­al­iza­tion pre­cisely when the United States is in part re­treat­ing and Europe is stuck in its per­sis­tent di­vi­sions and prob­lems.

On the sub­ject of electric ve­hi­cles, China al­ready has some im­por­tant pri­vate pro­duc­ers such as BYD, and com­bines strong gov­ern­ment sup­port with emerg­ing and dy­namic en­trepreneur­ship. Electric cars are a pri­or­ity for China for a lot of rea­sons. First, their use would help fight pol­lu­tion, which is still a big is­sue in China’s me­trop­o­lises. Sec­ond, they would put the coun­try at the cut­ting edge of sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal re­search in sec­tors such as re­new­able en­ergy, new ma­te­ri­als and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

More im­por­tant, 285 Chi­nese cities are build­ing them­selves up as eco-cities, ac­cord­ing to Forbes. Eco-cities (such as Tian­jin) are a ne­ces­sity for a coun­try with a boom­ing ur­ban pop­u­la­tion and fast-grow­ing en­ergy needs. In ad­di­tion, they demon­strate a will to plan and “phys­i­cally” build up a fu­ture, which has been miss­ing from Europe for quite a long time.

Cu­ri­ously, one of Europe’s very few “new cities” in re­cent decades is Poland’s Koby­lany New City, a 30,000-peo­ple devel­op­ment project on the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt which, along with the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, is part of the China-pro­posed Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. In­fra­struc­ture is cen­tral to this ini­tia­tive, which can also pro­mote “green and sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture”. The Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, too, is com­mit­ted to “green devel­op­ment” and China has sup­ported hy­dropower, wind power and large so­lar power projects in coun­tries such as Pak­istan.

Mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion can have huge fi­nan­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal costs, but long ago China made a clear choice about its pre­ferred mode of trans­port, and it chose the “green­est”: the rail­way. Not by chance China has the largest high-speed rail­way net­work in the world (over 20,000 kilo­me­ters), larger than those of all the other coun­tries com­bined.

In­ter­est­ingly, Europe, too, has a tra­di­tion of high-speed rail net­works, dat­ing back to Italy’s Florence-Rome “Diret­tis­sima” (1978) and France’s Paris-Lyon TGV (1981). De­spite old am­bi­tions, how­ever, Europe has re­mained be­hind. Trains are more ecofriendly than air­planes or road ve­hi­cles, and widen­ing their net­works in both Europe and China could help ce­ment a Euro-Asian part­ner­ship and mit­i­gate the ef­fects of cli­mate change at a global level.

An­other im­por­tant ter­rain where the EU and China could meet is that of “green fi­nance” or “cli­mate bonds”. China sup­ported their role at last year’s G20 in Hangzhou, cap­i­tal of Zhe­jiang prov­ince. Sev­eral years ago some Euro­pean politi­cians had pro­posed the adop­tion of “euro bonds” which could have helped the EU to fi­nance large-scale in­vest­ments, but this didn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize. Now would be the right time to re­turn to that project, and pro­mote sus­tain­able in­vest­ment in the EU and China, as well as co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two sides.

In an age in which the US seems re­luc­tant to take on im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties about the planet’s fu­ture, co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the EU is cru­cial. Sav­ing the Paris cli­mate ac­cord and our com­mon en­vi­ron­ment, af­ter all, largely de­pends on their agree­ment.

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