China’s green era begins
March 08, 2011
This week, China is making history – launching not only its Five-Year Plan, but also a global green revolution, write Hu Angang and Liang Jiaochen.
“One of the key strengths of Chinese socialism is its capacity for long-term, national-level planning – its political continuity. FYPs are an important example of this.”
Five-year plans (FYPs), which set down and clarify national strategy, are one of China’s most important policy tools. Just as they have helped to drive China’s economic success over recent decades, so they will play a pivotal role in putting the country on a green development path. The 12th Five-Year Plan, now under consideration by the National People’s Congress, marks the beginning of that process in earnest.
FYPs embody the concept of progressing by degrees, or developing step by step. This approach has been one of the driving forces behind China’s economic progress in recent decades, and will now provide the platform for its green development. It is the methodology underpinning China’s socialist modernisation: to reach a new step in development every five years. Unstinting efforts over a number of FYPs have driven China’s transformation.
Climate change presents a long-term and all-encompassing challenge for China. It demands a long-term development strategy and broad goals, as well as near-term action plans and concrete policies. Combining these is precisely the idea behind FYPs.
At the global climate-change summit in Copenhagen in 2009, China demonstrated it has the long-term political will to respond to climate change; to work with the world to limit global temperatures to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures (the goal set out in the Copenhagen Accord). In November that year, the Chinese government formally put forward its medium-term targets on climate change: a reduction in energy intensity of 40% to 45% on 2005 levels by 2020, and generation of 15% of energy from non-fossil fuel sources by the same date.
The period from 2005 to 2020 takes in three FYPs, the 11th, 12th and 13th. In each five-year period, national circumstances and long-term strategy will inform the selection of appropriate targets. In this way, further steps towards the medium-term development goals set for 2020 – themselves part of a longer-term green development strategy – will be taken. The development philosophy of China’s five-year plans will be combined with its green development strategy.
We have already seen some success in the 11th FYP period (2005 to 2010), during which China met its energy-saving and emission-reduction targets, a good first step towards achieving 2020 targets. Next we need to research, set and implement energy-saving and emission-reduction goals for the 12th FYP, taking further steps along the same path.
One of the key strengths of Chinese socialism is its capacity for long-term, national-level planning – its political continuity. FYPs are an important example of this. Despite the twists and turns of history, China has held firm in its modernisation goals. China is one of the few nations able to pursue long-term development goals, rather than chop and change as political parties with differing stances succeed one another.
Long-term policy continuity is vital for dealing with issues like climate change. Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and building a low-carbon economy require an overhaul of both our mode of economic development and our lifestyles. Achieving this requires perseverance. This is where China’s policymaking framework shows its strengths. China’s enduring and stable political system, in combination with its five-year planning structure, will ensure that the country maintains a consistent, long-term strategy for tackling climate change at the same time as formulating policies that respond to the needs of the time.
These are strengths many other nations lack. The classic example is the United States. During the presidency of George W Bush – a Republican – the US neglected its emissions-reduction responsibilities and refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. When Democrat president Barack Obama took power, there was a policy turnaround and the United States became actively involved in global climate-change cooperation and investment in renewable energy. But then came last year’s mid-term elections, and the Republican party seized back control of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the US senate; a major setback for the Democrats that has left a question mark hanging over a number of Obama’s green reforms.
China’s political advantages are clear. It needs to make further use of these, using five-year plans as the basis for steady progress towards green development.
Successes in energy-saving and emissions-reduction over the last five years give us a taste of what’s to come. In our evaluation of the 11th FYP, we found that targets on population, resource conservation and environment were all fulfilled. Energy intensity dropped by about 20% as planned. Arable land cover was held at 1.2 million square kilometres, a higher figure than was targeted.
Meanwhile, water consumption per unit of industrial value added dropped 35% against a target of 30%. The coefficient of effective use of water for irrigation reached the targeted 0.5. And chemical oxygen demand (an indirect measure of water pollution) dropped by 14%.
Carbon-dioxide emissions also fell – by an accumulative 12% – more than the 10% goal mandated by the plan. The binding targets for energy-saving and emission-reduction in particular showed the value of “hard limits”. Major progress was made on green development, providing important experience for further implementation during the 12th FYP.
The 12th FYP is the first for which the theme will be green development. Again, a point will be made of the need to “construct a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society”. The plan will explicitly say that, faced with ever-stronger environmental and resource constraints, China must increase its sense of urgency and establish concepts of green and low-carbon development. With a focus on energy-saving and emission-reduction, it must introduce incentives and disincentives to help promote resource conservation and green production and consumption.
The green development strategy has six supporting pillars, each with its own section in the plan: actively responding to climate change; strengthening conservation and management of resources; developing the “circular economy”; enhancing environmental protection; promoting ecological protection and restoration; and strengthening systems for water management and disaster prevention and alleviation.
Green development targets are also more apparent in the new FYP. Population goals aside, the number of resource and environmental targets accounts for 33.3% of the total, up from 27.2% in the 11th FYP. It also sets the key aims that will frame China’s response to climate change. These include: reductions in carbon-dioxide intensity, reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions – by increasing the proportion of non-fossil fuels in energy structure – and the creation of new forest areas to boost forest cover, timber reserves and carbon sinks.
The 12th FYP sets out both “carrot” and “stick” approaches. For the first time, this FYP aims to reform resource pricing and establish a system of payment for environmental services. It requires stronger assessment of responsibility for energy-saving and emission-reduction targets, appropriate control of total energy consumption and the application of green development in all economic activity.
Also for the first time, the 12th FYP puts forward an “ecological security” strategy. In areas where development is limited or banned, ecological protection will be rigorously enforced and green buffer zones will be used to shield vulnerable land. There will also be funding for specific ecological restoration projects, so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy a beautiful China.
The 12th FYP is a true green development plan, which marks China’s entry into a green development era. It is a historical moment: the point at which China launches – and joins – the global green revolution and adopts a concrete plan of action for responding to climate change. The positive effects will be felt worldwide.
Hu Angang is one of China’s best-known economists. He is professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University and the director of the Centre for China Study, a leading policy think-tank. Hu has worked as the chief editor for China Studies Report, a circulated reference for senior officials.
Liang Jiaochen is a PhD student at Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management.
09 Mar 2011 14:38
Yes. China has to go green in a big way.
China has ambitious plans to go green both in Energy and Environment. China's Afforestation is wonderful.
Many people know that the expansion of China's economy is the fastest in the world, but few people know that the expansion of the China's forest is also the fastest in the world. In reality, China is the only place where forest is aggressively growing while in many parts of the world, from Amazonia to Southeast Asia, and to Africa, the forests are shrinking, and dying.
Forest covered 9% of China's territory in 1949. The coverage has increased to 16% now and is projected to reach 20% in 2020.
Each year, China creates 5.3 million hectares of forests, afforests another 3.7 million hectares of mountains where hunting and grazing are prohibited, and plants 2.4 billion trees by advancing the compulsory tree-planting campaign. These efforts have stabilized the coverage of the nation’s manually planted forests at 33 million hectares, and China now ranks first in the world in both the speed and scale of afforestation. The country’s current forest coverage rate is nearly 6 percentage points higher than what it was in the early 1950s.
Beijing’s blue-sky diary
February 28, 2011
China’s capital has just endured a week of particularly hazardous pollution. In one year, how many good-air-quality days does the city see? Chen Zifan spoke with two residents who captured the visual evidence.
“Your mood when you get up in the morning doesn’t depend on whether or not the newspaper tells you the air quality is up to standard – it depends on whether or not you see a blue sky when you open the door.”
Over the last year, two young Beijingers have roamed the streets and lanes of the city, taking a photo of the sky every day to form a “Beijing Blue-Sky Visual Diary”. Their photographic record shows that from May 31, 2009 to June 1, 2010, Beijing enjoyed 180 days of blue skies – 100 fewer than in figures published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The people of Beijing are dubious about the veracity of the official figures, believing themselves to have “been blue-skied”.
The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau was quick to explain that their “blue-sky day” refers to one on which air quality reaches a certain standard. An air-pollution index is produced by monitoring of pollutants, including inhalable particles sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO2), and anything under 100 is classed as a “blue-sky day”. So come rain or snow, if the air quality is good enough, it’s a “blue-sky day”.
“We didn’t start out to disprove official figures,” said Lu Weiwei. “We just wanted more people to pay attention to Beijing’s blue skies and protect them.”
How important are the figures for the people who live in the city? “Your mood when you get up in the morning doesn’t depend on whether or not the newspaper tells you the air quality is up to standard – it depends on whether or not you see a blue sky when you open the door. A picture of a blue sky is more convincing than any data.” She and photographer Fan Tao decided to take matters into their own hands and record the reality of Beijing’s skies.
Every photo in “Beijing Blue-Sky Visual Diary” includes a Beijing road sign –large and small -- from Dongzhimen to Douban Hutong, from Beitucheng Xilu to Shuiduizi Zhongjie. If the sky was grey, they just snapped the road sign, but on a blue-sky day they would invite a passer-by to put on a pair of sunglasses and appear in the photo. They used a traditional 35mm camera that recorded timely data on each photograph, thereby demonstrating continuity.
Grey skies above Beijing's Ciyunsi Bridge.
Photo courtesy of Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao.
The sunglasses indicated that the sky at the time was clear, Fan told chinadialogue. Their round frames have a strong oriental touch and the mirrored lenses reflect the bright blue skies.
Lu may seem a little unorthodox to some. Born in Beijing, she has lived in Europe and the United States and worked at the World Bank headquarters in Washington on development financing. She quit the bank and went to Italy to study design, before returning to Beijing in 2004. Fan, a Beijinger born-and-bred, is a freelancer specialising in architectural and structural photography. He and Lu are nostalgic for the days when they used to cycle to school. “The sky was really blue then, and the air clean,” he said.
“Some photos of the environment are too harsh and depressing; they create a sense of aversion,” according to Fan. “We hope by taking pictures of blue skies and white clouds to let everyone participate and pay attention to the skies. Just do something small – environmental protection doesn’t mean making a fuss or great sacrifices.” The duo think that for a lot of people environmental protection means getting many people involved, but they sought to do something very ordinary. Using an old camera was part of this: it’s recycling and environmentally friendly. Expensive equipment isn’t needed to photograph the environment.
For 365 days they visited different parts of Beijing and asked strangers to let themselves be photographed. Lu and Fan each had a camera and pair of sunglasses, and took it in turns to go out. They planned locations carefully, aiming to photograph as many different areas as possible. The photos also include many different types of people – old men and women, teenage girls, migrant workers, white-collar office staff. “Beijing’s a melting pot and we did our best to choose different people, to show the city’s diversity and international nature,” said Tao.
An elderly man enjoys a bright day in Beijing.
Photo courtesy of Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao.
At first the two had to overcome their apprehensions about stopping strangers in the street and persuading them to be photographed. If things went well, it might take only 20 minutes to find someone and take the photo. At other times, they might stand in the blazing sun for an hour without any luck. Sometimes Lu would see people trendily dressed: “You’d think they’d be environmentally aware,” she said. “I’d do everything I could to explain and be sure they’d be supportive, but they’d just say they didn’t want to. I’d say it would only take two minutes, and they’d say they didn’t even have two minutes. They didn’t even have a reason. It’s really discouraging when you aren’t trusted.”
White-collar workers were rushed and wary, often declining without explanation. Fan described the China World Trade Centre junction, in Beijing’s central business district, as his nightmare. It was particularly difficult to get someone there to photograph. According to Lu, “That’s where the elite are gathered. A lot of environmental policy decisions are in their hands. Maybe they’re under a lot of pressure, but a lot of them just keep rushing about with their heads down – they won’t look at the sky!”
Unexpectedly, Fan and Lu found through the year that the most positive, encouraging responses didn’t come from the trendy white-collar workers, but from old people and children. “The old folk are usually very enthusiastic,” said Lu. “They were happy to be photographed and often asked us about ourselves.” A young boy Lu photographed wished her good luck with the project, a moment that moved her. Fan once photographed an elderly retired engineer who told him: “As long as it’s environmental protection, I’m for it.”
Lu and Fan plan to publish all 365 photos in succession and would like to hold an exhibition so visitors can count the number of blue-sky days for themselves. “We counted 180,” Fan said. “Maybe some will find 185 or 200. People have different ideas about what a blue sky is, and I hope everyone will make their own judgement. It’s really interesting, and gets more people involved. Our intention was to share and, in sharing, guide people’s behaviour.”
Chen Zifan is a Beijing-based reporter.
28 Feb 2011 16:15
Alarming story. Pollution and production(Especially in Coal power) go together. Unless effective measures are taken pollution will be a major threat to health for the future generations.
Restoring the balance
February 23, 2011
Tim Jackson is a sustainability adviser to the British government and the author of Prosperity without Growth, a controversial rebuttal of GDP-focused notions of success. He explains his philosophy to Tan Copsey.
“China and other emerging economies are locking themselves into the same dynamic rich nations are already locked into. At some point in the future, it’s going to bring them down.”
Tan Copsey: Why does Europe need to move away from existing growth-focused economies in your opinion?
Tim Jackson: The way in which we organise society and the social logic that we encourage in order to keep people consuming goods is taking us in the wrong direction. The basic dynamics of growing economic throughput [the rate at which products and services are generated] is pulling through a growth in materials and we’re pushing up against base resource limits in environmental systems.
The prevailing way of thinking is that you can somehow keep a kind of qualitative economic growth. The trouble is that it just doesn’t work out when you start to look at the underlying dynamics of the growth-based economy.
The system has also generated, or at least failed to alleviate, acute inequalities. In developed countries, it has become unstable in its own terms. So I see the [financial] crisis of a couple of years ago as a crisis of growth in the sense that it was motivated by the desire to continue growth.
TC: In your book, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, a translation of which is about to be published in China, you suggest that it’s possible to achieve prosperity without growth. But what is prosperity then? How do you define it?
TJ: I go back to making a distinction between income and well-being. It draws on a very long philosophical literature that separates out material wealth from happiness, material wealth from flourishing, from doing well.
TC: How would you then begin to apply those ideas to a country like China, where lots of people are still in poverty? And what should China be doing, if not focusing on that form of economic growth?
TJ: The primary target audience of my message is the developed economies, because it is in the developed economies that the returns from the increase of material throughput and from increasing income are actually diminishing much faster.
If you look at the poorest economies, you see much more powerful growth. There is a powerful case for income growth in the poorest nations because it’s much more closely correlated with an increase in well-being. It isn’t an argument for saying categorically that poor countries shouldn’t grow. China is a middle-income country. So I’m absolutely not saying “China you can’t grow”.
But China and other emerging economies, BRIC economies [Brazil, Russia, India, China] are pursuing what is actually a very similar model to what was used in western nations over the last hundred years. They’re locking themselves into exactly the same dynamic the rich nations are already locked into. At some point in the future, it’s going to bring them down, as it is bringing down the developed nations.
[Growth] in China has been very intensive and environmentally damaging and sometimes it has also been divisive. There needs to be a balance between the delivery of a sustainable long-term vision in China and the improvement in the quality of life that is important now. That’s about looking at the structure of the economic institutions. It’s looking at the social logic that is driving society. It’s about creating a measurements framework that doesn’t simply include conventional economic indicators, but that also tracks the social well-being outcomes that actually matter in the short term and the long term.
TC: You mention the examples within China. More generally, do you see any real world examples of countries or institutions moving towards these kinds of alternative forms of measurement?
TJ: The Sarkozy Commission Report [a report on national accounting methods, commissioned by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and written by a panel of economists including Joseph Stiglitz] was the most high-profile attempt to do that. It’s led by a G7 government and achieved lots of publicity. What’s extraordinary about this Sarkozy Report is that it didn’t say anything that hadn’t been known for 40 years or so. It’s like, if you look at this kind of [global economic] architecture, the architect is the national accounting system dating back to the Second World War. You find acknowledgement of the limitations of this accounting system then. Yet somehow we’ve ignored this critique for a long period of time.
There’s also an interesting, slightly marginal case study – Bhutan, which has a system of well-being indicators around which it builds policies. Then in several western countries, there are sets of sustainability indicators that attempt to bring into policy different measurements sets and frameworks.
What’s been lacking is a way of bringing those measurement frameworks more into mainstream policy. That’s partly because the dominant indicator of GDP rise has huge political importance. A growth-based economy is our best bet of getting a stable economy – we know that when GDP falls, or even when one goes through decline, you introduce structural problems into the economy. So there’s a reason why it has become so important to policy. But there’s also a very good reason to question it as a measure of well-being.
TC: The kind of change you’re talking about would require a completely different development pathway. It would require change not only in the public sector, but also within the private sector. How do we get from here to there, given the scale of the task?
TJ: The first step is to establish an understanding of the nature of the problem and the dynamics that lead to it. The second step is really a strategic one, which requires at least a little bit of political will to respond to challenges.
We can do exactly what we’ve been doing, but if we do that in the recognition that there’s a structural problem, it’s actually quite a pathological response. We need to de-pathologise the response of government.
The next point really is about freeing government to offer solutions spaces. I distinguish three solution spaces: one is establishing where the limits are. Even though we know where some of those limits are, say, with climate change, we’re not integrating them into policies in the way we need to. The establishment of limits is actually a really important step in being able to look forward to the way the economy is going to develop outside of this pathological dynamic.
The second kind of solution space is about fixing the economics. It is about beginning to design economics itself and economic institutions that reinforce long-term interests. It has some very clear policy implications, for example how you strategise investments, how you measure performance of investments, how you change the balance between spending and saving in your household sector and how you shift the balance of investment towards long-term goals in your production sector.
The third one, and of course they’re interlinked, is changing social logic. It is, to some extent, about social values and norms. People as consumers are locked into specific patterns of behaviour. If you need growth, you need people to go on buying more, past the point at which they need it. So you have to persuade them that there are social or psychological benefits [to consuming more]. What we’re living in is a system designed to kick start and stimulate consumption. Recognising that, we have to systematically shift back to balance.
TC: Current policies, say in the UK and China, are very much based on the notion that we can decouple growth in greenhouse-gas emissions from economic growth, do you believe this is possible?
TJ: At the moment, all we’ve seen is relative decoupling – decoupling per unit of GDP. You would predict that because carbon is a product of burning fuels and fuels are an input of production cost. So the motivation to reduce production cost actually motivates a relative decarbonisation and the search for less energy-intensive alternatives. Relative decoupling has not led to absolute decoupling, which is much harder to achieve without changes in the structure of the system.
TC: Instead of abandoning growth, wouldn’t it be better to foster new forms of growth? Say economic growth partially based on rebuilding natural ecosystems – like markets based on reforestation and avoided deforestation?
TJ: There’s no recommendation anywhere in the book that says abandon growth. There are many specific recommendations to do different things with the economy. For example, investing in those ecosystem services or moving towards service-based, material-light enterprises.
But do you actually get growth back by doing that? My sense is that you don’t for a couple of reasons. One is that the service-based economy tends to fly in the face of the later productivity gains, which traditionally have given you growth in the economy. The investments have much longer periods of return and considerably lower productivity, so they don’t give you back conventional growth. My concern is, if you’re hooked on getting a growth-based economy at all costs, you won’t move to a structural change as all your institutional incentives are pointing in the wrong direction.
So it’s not saying let’s stop growth and turn it backwards. It’s saying, let’s be clear what our outcome variables are and focus on those – and they’re human well-being, stable levels of employment and environmental constraints.
Tim Jackson is professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey and director of its Research Group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment (RESOLVE). He is also economics commissioner on the UK Sustainable Development Commission. A translation of his book, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, will be published by China Commercial Press in March.
Tan Copsey is development manager at chinadialogue.
23 February 2011
“Growth can’t go on”
February 22, 2011
To have any hope of protecting Earth’s resources, we must first abandon our obsession with economic expansion, argues Viki Johnson.
“For every doubling in the global economy, as it is currently measured, we use the equivalent in resources of all of the previous doublings combined.”
From birth to puberty a hamster doubles its weight each week. If, then, instead of levelling-off in maturity as animals do, the hamster continued to grow at the same rate, on its first birthday we would be facing a nine-billion tonne hamster. If it kept eating at the same ratio of food to body weight, by then its daily intake would be greater than the total, annual amount of maize produced worldwide.
There is a reason that in nature things do not grow indefinitely.
Yet the entire canon of mainstream contemporary economics seems to believe that economics exists independently of the laws of biology, chemistry and physics. It assumes, without exception, that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is both desirable and possible.
In economics, “growth”, or the lack of it, describes the trajectory of Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product, two slightly different measures of national income (they differ, basically, only in that one includes earnings from overseas assets). An economy is said to be growing if the financial value of all the exchanges of goods and services within it goes up. The absence of growth gets described, pejoratively, as recession. Prolonged recessions are called depressions.
Yet it is not that simple. An economy may grow, for example, because money is being spent on clearing up after disasters or pollution incidents, or to control rising crime or widespread disease. You may also have “jobless growth”, in which the headline figure for GDP rises but new employment is not generated, or environmentally destructive growth, in which a kind of false monetary value is created by liquidating irreplaceable natural assets on which livelihoods depend.
The fact that an economy is growing tells you nothing about the “quality” of economic activity that is happening within it. For example, research by the centre for well being at nef (the new economics foundation) shows that the link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction in developed nations broke down decades ago.
Research by nef also highlighted a flaw at the heart of the general economic strategy that relies upon global economic growth to reduce poverty. The distribution of costs and benefits from economic growth, it demonstrated, is highly unbalanced. The share of benefits reaching those on the lowest incomes is shrinking. In this system, paradoxically, in order to generate ever smaller benefits for the poorest, those who are already rich and “over-consuming” are required to consume ever more.
For every doubling in the global economy, as it is currently measured, we use the equivalent in resources of all of the previous doublings combined. For modest growth rates of 3% each year, common to developed economies, the doubling period is around 23 years. For higher growth rates of 10%, more common to developing economies, the doubling period is approximately seven years.
In a unique study published in the science journal Nature in September 2009, a group of 29 leading international scientists identified nine processes in the biosphere for which they considered it necessary to define “planetary boundaries”. Of the nine boundaries, three had already been transgressed: climate change, interference in the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss. Clearly, anyone who thinks the Earth can take another doubling of the global economy is, as economist Kenneth Boulding famously stated, “a madman or an economist”.
To illustrate this, and in the context of climate change, nef looked in detail at the relationship between economic growth and the need to avert catastrophic climate change. Based on the leading models for climate change and the global economy’s use of fossil fuels, the report comes to a seemingly inescapable and self-explanatory conclusion.
It asks whether global economic growth can be maintained, while keeping a good likelihood of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target set out in the Copenhagen Accord, and widely considered the maximum rise to which humanity can adapt without serious difficulty.
The report shows that none of the scenarios studied, including the most optimistic variations of low-carbon energy and efficiency, could square the circle of endless global economic growth with climate safety. This is in part due to the fact that, over the last decade, carbon intensity (carbon per unit of GDP) has not gone down, it has generally flat-lined and, in some years, even gone up. This is the result of rapid economic growth in developing nations such as India and China, which have fuelled their economic boom with carbon-intensive coal. However, globally, there has also been a lack of investment in low-carbon energy infrastructure such as solar or wind energy.
At the same time, improvement in energy intensity of the economy (energy per unit of GDP) has slowed – implying we may be approaching efficiency limits in both the supply side (such as power stations) and demand side (such as domestic appliances). So, for all the promise of magic bullet technologies such as biofuels, carbon capture and storage and nuclear, and ever improving energy and resource efficiencies; continual growth drowns out energy and natural resource efficiency gains.
Well-being economics offers an alternative to the problems associated with unsustainable economic growth. Underpinning it is the recognition that economic growth was only ever intended as a means to an end, and that by prioritising the “means” – in other words focusing so heavily on economic growth – we have lost track of the “end”, of what really matters.
At the heart of well-being economics is the understanding that the “end” in question is a high level of well-being for all, achieved through economic activity that uses environmental resources in a sustainable way. If society’s goal is understood to be high well-being, and the means of achieving it is recognised as sustainable economic activity, we will be better equipped to deal with the biggest challenge that we face in the twenty-first century.
Unending global economic growth is not only impossible, it is also neither desirable nor necessary. If you have any doubts, ask a hamster.
Viki Johnson is head of climate change and energy policy at nef.
The need of the hour is sustainable Development through Clean and green technologies. I again recall the famous equation:
C = B: E
The carrying capacity of any land depends on the biotic potential and environmental resistance.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
22 February 2011
Building China’s future?
February 17, 2011
Following Singapore’s example, Britain is trying to secure a role in China’s eco-cities market. But what does that mean for the green agenda? Olivia Boyd spoke to one of the figures behind the campaign.
“A lot of the activity in China is frankly smoke and mirrors. They come up with high concepts but what gets delivered often has little reflection of those aspirations.”
China’s vice premier, Li Keqiang, spent much of his nine-day European tour in January buying wine and olive oil in Spain and signing multibillion-dollar agreements with Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz in Germany. But it was a visit to a sustainable-housing development in Britain’s unglamorous town of Watford that rounded of the trip of the man tipped to be China’s next prime minister.
This high-level show of interest in the United Kingdom’s green-building sector will have added to the delight of British politicians, already quivering with excitement about a new agreement that will see the country take a role in developing China’s “low-carbon pilots”, schemes launched last August to accelerate carbon-emission cuts in eight cities. Announcing the deal, Chris Huhne, the UK’s energy and climate change secretary said: “Making green growth a reality for both countries will be crucial for prosperity, the environment and for our energy security.”
He has more to look forward to: in April, Qiu Baoxing, China’s vice-minister for housing and urban-rural development – and the man who once declared that "the world is at war with energy, and China is our battlefront" – is expected in London for discussions with a body set up to get British construction firms involved in China’s drive to build a wave of green cities. The two sides (the Chinese party is the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, or MOHURD) signed a memorandum of understanding last year.
Alan Kell, an expert in “smart” building technologies with experience overseeing the construction of sustainable demonstration pavilions in Hong Kong, Beijing and Kunming, is co-chair of the body due to host Qiu, the UK-China Eco-Cities & Green Building Working Group. In an interview with chinadialogue, he argued that Britain’s big international players can help boost the credibility of China’s green construction drive.
“A lot of the activity in China is frankly smoke and mirrors,” said Kell. “They come up with high concepts but, having got something approved as ‘low-carbon’ or ‘eco-city’, what gets delivered often has little or no reflection of those aspirations – it’s bog-standard commercial delivery. So we’ve got to get involved in the specification and standards and delivery process to help the Chinese help themselves.”
There is a heavy dose of commercial self-interest here too. The group – whose membership at last count comprised 25 of the UK’s leading construction, design and property firms plus three universities – is the latest incarnation of a government and business-backed initiative to promote British green-construction expertise in China. This time, its sights are on the mega schemes: the country’s so-called “eco-cities”, typically large-scale satellite developments near existing urban centres, intended to function both as sustainable communities and showcases for cutting-edge design. The Economist has reported that, by 2009, there were around 40 such schemes on the go, though the lack of a clear “eco-city” definition makes it hard to find a reliable figure.
It’s easy to see the market’s appeal. According to a 2009 forecast from the McKinsey Global Institute, China will have 350 million extra urban residents by 2025, a date by which the country should have already passed its target of a 40% to 45% cut in emissions intensity. And Britain is not the only country piling in. Singapore has even managed to get its role in a development in northern China into the scheme’s name: the “Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city”, a four billion yuan (US$607 million) urban project planned around a core of conserved wetlands. But do the ambitions of politicians and businesses stuck in stagnant domestic markets sit comfortably with a credible green agenda? In other words, will China’s environment actually benefit from the international scramble for work?
Kell argued that hard-nosed commercialism is actually a powerful way of delivering tangible benefits on the ground, not least because the pressure of the bottom line means companies push for implementation over discussion and large-scale delivery over demonstration: “These are commercial companies we’re dealing with. They’re prepared to invest a certain amount in capacity building but, come the crunch, their interest is in commercial projects, not demonstration. And my fundamental premise is: unless we’re connecting with commercial delivery, all these discussions are futile.”
Recent history suggests that sustainable aspirations of international firms in China do not always produce sustainable results, however. Dongtan, the prototype eco-city designed by British engineering giant Arup for an area of delicate wetlands near Shanghai, is the most potent example. Plans for the zero-emissions transport, energy self-sufficient scheme, intended to be one third of the size of Manhattan by 2050, won plaudits internationally (in spite of its location on a fragile ecosystem). But it never got off the ground.
Huangbaiyu, the “model sustainable village” designed by US architect William McDonough, was also a dispiriting flop. Forty-two houses were built on the site in Liaoning province, north-east China, but fell so far short of the promised standards that an American anthropologist sponsored to monitor the village’s transformation, Shannon May, was moved to speak out against it: “I could no longer continue reading the glowing stories of the successful development of a model eco-town in Huangbaiyu without becoming angry or depressed,” she wrote on her blog.
Does it have to be like this? Not according to Kell. He said the main lesson from the Dongtan fiasco is that projects have to be selected carefully. “Yes, there were local financial and political problems, but the message we were given from Beijing was that they didn’t support the Dongtan project. It didn’t figure in the national programme. And the message we take away from that is this: we have to work at the national level and at the local level to be successful. So we are working at the national level, with MOHURD, to understand and influence their eco-city standards, and we’re working at regional and city level to actually identify real projects.”
He added that, for real sustainability, there has to be an emphasis on the “life-cycle” of projects – making sure a scheme is workable and green from beginning to end; from financing arrangements through to post-construction management: “One statement I picked up from the ministry [MOHURD] is that there’s an increasing need in China to create a facilities management industry, because they’re throwing up all of these new buildings and they’re not performing.”
He gave an example: “I spoke a couple of years ago at a brand new, state-of-the-art conference centre in China. It looked breathtaking but the temperature in the room was unbearable and halfway through, a man came in with a cardboard box and proceeded to smash a hole in the wall and insert a stand-alone air-conditioning unit, just behind the podium. This incident in some ways illustrated the challenge – you can throw these buildings up, but you need to run them properly too.”
Whether or not Kell’s team will get to make this point at a practical level is as yet unclear. The group is doing well on memoranda of understanding. But when it comes to actual projects on the ground, there is less progress, though Kell is hopeful that a trade mission to China in March will yield a deal on specific projects in Hunan’s Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan City cluster (CZT), which as well as promoting green industry aims to be a national exemplar in protecting intellectual property rights.
And whether or not such projects, in the long-term, will help China meet its sustainability challenges is another question altogether. Sceptical voices remain. David Tyfield, sociologist at Lancaster University and expert in low-carbon innovation in China, while broadly supportive of the eco-city concept, is concerned that political sensitivities surrounding such high-profile schemes will make it difficult to build “more than showcases”. He pointed to economic challenges too: “The bottom line is that, while there is a lot of demand for clean living spaces in China, there’s not much demand for paying a premium to live in a low-carbon city. And, if there’s not that demand, is it possible to have an eco-city in China that’s not just a luxury suburb?”
Kell’s belief is that, with the right leadership, standards and international help, the “eco” in China’s eco-city will be meaningful. Here’s hoping.
Olivia Boyd is assistant editor at chinadialogue.
17 Feb 2011 15:49
Critical analysis on Proposed eco-cities in China
Green cities, eco-cities, clean energy, green technologies are the buzz words these days. The article by Olivia Boyd is very critical and covers both sides of the issue.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
Unscrambling the price spike
February 11, 2011
The brutal drought in China’s grain-producing heartlands is compounding global fears over rising food prices. Now facing the spectre of hoarding and export bans, governments must find a way to work together, writes Alex Evans.
“The fact that France has put export bans squarely at the centre of its G20 agenda shows that concern about the risk of zero-sum games on food remains acute.”
What a rollercoaster ride the story of global food prices has been this year – and we're only a month in.
Back in January, when news emerged that food prices had reached a new record high, many analysts were relatively sanguine about the rise. As I noted in a Global Dashboard post on 6 January, the new price spike was largely driven by meat, sugar and vegetable oils, rather than, as in 2008, staples like wheat or rice.
Governments weren't sliding into panic measures – unlike in 2008, when over 30 of them imposed export bans, forcing prices still higher. And while the 2008 spike was marked by protests in 61 countries (with violent unrest in 23 of them), that didn't seem to be happening this time around.
How things can change in a month. No sooner had I published that post than Algeria erupted in rioting over high food prices – and while food prices weren't the cause of recent events seen in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, they have certainly formed part of the backdrop.
Panic measures by governments are back in the news too, as Middle Eastern and North African governments frantically try to rebuild national food stocks as a defence against high prices and civil unrest.
And while there hasn't been a slide back into mass export bans – yet – a number of eastern European countries have imposed restrictions on wheat exports; and the fact that France has put export bans squarely at the centre of its G20 agenda shows that concern about the risk of zero-sum games on food remains acute.
Perhaps most critically, price rises are now clearly discernible in markets for staple grains. Corn prices are at their highest level in 30 months, as the United States – which accounts for two thirds of global corn exports – experiences increased demand from ethanol distilleries and from China, coupled with reduced output from poor weather. Soybeans have been rising steadily too, again in large part thanks to Chinese imports.
And then there's wheat. Wheat prices rose sharply during summer last year, when they were sent soaring by extreme weather in Russia, followed soon afterwards by its export ban. More recently, they have risen still higher because of poor weather in Australia and panic buying by Middle East and North African governments – most notably in the case of Egypt, the world's largest importer of wheat.
So that's the story so far on food prices in 2010. Now, in the latest episode of this gripping global drama, all eyes are turning to China, where the country's northern grain-producing regions have been in the grip of a brutal drought for more than three months, raising fears about its winter wheat crop.
In many areas, the drought is the worst in six decades; in Shandong province, a key grain producer, the drought is the worst in 200 years. The government is spending nearly a billion dollars on emergency measures (extending even to firing anti-aircraft guns at clouds). Media coverage is mushrooming; futures markets are taking fright.
In the back of many minds is the worrying thought that while rice prices may not be spiking yet, there's a school of thought that believes they did so in 2008 in large part because high wheat prices prompted consumers to substitute rice for wheat. And it was when rice spiked that things really started to go haywire in 2008 – with export bans, hoarding and all the rest of it.
So just how bad is it?
Not necessarily as bad as the more lurid media coverage might lead you to think – though it could become that bad, depending on what happens in the next few weeks. That's the key message from the Food and Agriculture Organization, whose Global Information and Early Warning System team published a Special Alert on China on Tuesday this week.
Winter wheat doesn't get harvested until June, and early February in China is still in the dormant phase for winter wheat rather than its active growth phase – so as yet, wheat yields haven't necessarily been affected by the drought. Instead, the impact of low soil moisture and snow cover so far has been to reduce the wheat plants' protection against frost, which hasn't been a serious problem as yet, as temperatures have been pretty mild.
But with wheat plants made vulnerable by the drought so far, a cold snap in the next few weeks would be devastating – as, needless to say, would a continuation of the drought into the active growth period.
In the background is the factor that no-one really knows whether China has large reserves of wheat or not, as commodities journalist Javier Blas noted in the FT recently: “A senior Western official recently told me that his estimates of stocks of wheat, corn and soyabean in China – which are widely followed by the market – are nothing more than ‘informed guesses’. The problem is that many countries see information about agricultural commodities markets, particularly the level of stocks, as state secrets.”
It's uncertainties, maybes and what-ifs like these that have futures markets spooked by the drought in China – that, and a more generalised sense of what a game-changer it would be if China became a net importer of wheat.
As noted above, Chinese demand for corn and soya imports has been a major factor in rising prices for those crops. Wheat, on the other hand, is something that China's long been self-sufficient at producing. But what happens if it has to turn to world markets to meet its needs – in particular, to the world's largest wheat exporter, the United States? Here's Lester Brown's take on it, in his book Plan B:
"This will pose a fascinating geopolitical situation. More than 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, who had an estimated $160 billion trade surplus with the US in 2004 [which is nothing to what it is now, of course] ... will be competing with Americans for US grain, driving up US food prices.
"In such a situation 30 years ago, the United States simply restricted exports. But China is now banker to the United States, underwriting much of the massive US fiscal deficit with monthly purchases of US Treasury bonds."
As Brown implies, the underlying point in all this is that the global food security agenda – like the geopolitics of resource scarcity more broadly – is currently treading a fine line between a zero-sum game of resource nationalism and a non-zero sum game of international cooperation based on clear-eyed recognition of global interdependence.
Moving decisively towards the latter outcome will involve China and other G20 countries agreeing to much greater transparency over their national food reserves, a clear commitment not to impose sudden export restrictions and probably also a multilateral system of food buffer stocks.
It will involve substantial investment in resilience at country level, through scaling up social protection systems and other risk-reduction mechanisms, and a “21st century Green Revolution” in agriculture that not only produces more food, but does it more sustainably and resiliently too.
But above all, the path to a non-zero sum outcome on food security will involve a need for franker discussion about fair shares in a world of limits. It’s already clear that reaching a global deal on climate change will require agreement on how to share out remaining “carbon space”. As global food supplies become tighter, in a world of resource scarcity and climate impacts, similarly charged equity issues will arise over questions about whether the world can afford to use vast amounts of grain, land, water and energy for “western diets” or inefficient biofuels, when 925 million people remain undernourished.
12 Feb 2011 05:59
China will face the severe drought
Let us hope the effective steps taken by Chinese Government to tackle the severe drought will be successful.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
In Mali’s soil, anxiety grows
February 03, 2011
Foreign companies are snapping up the best fertile land in the food-insecure country. Madeleine Bunting examines what this means for local subsistence farmers, who fear the loss of their fields, crops and water.
“Ségou, the country’s rice basket, is at the eye of the storm, with buyers from Senegal, South Africa, China, as well as domestic companies snapping up leases on thousands of hectares.”
A new complex of government offices on the banks of the river Niger in Bamako, Mali, is like a wedding cake – pale pink, frosted with decorative detail, its plate glass winking in the sun. It's called the Administrative City and it was financed by the Libyan-backed Malibya development company. It is a powerful symbol of North African oil money and what it has to offer one of the poorest countries in the world.
Several hundred kilometres downstream, there is more evidence of the petromillions pouring into Mali. In the dusty flat marshlands of Macina in the Ségou region, enormous green metal sluice gates tower over a massive new canal built by Malibya. Forty kilometres long and 30 metres wide, it is one of the biggest canals in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Chinese contractors have only recently finished building it and it is eerily quiet, with only the slap of water against the new concrete walls and the chatter of occasional groups of schoolchildren heading home. The canal is destined to irrigate a vast area of land – 100,000 hectares in total – in one of the most controversial and secretive land deals in Africa, a continent that has become a target for a greedy and hungry world.
In the last six years, there has been a dramatic increase in foreign investment in land deals across Africa and the Malibya deal – a 50-year lease agreed by the Malian and Libyan presidents – has become totemic of the fear that this new phenomenon of land grabbing will deprive subsistence farmers of their land and their food.
Mali is one of the countries most affected by the scramble for land, and Ségou, the country's rice basket, is at the eye of the storm, with buyers from Senegal, South Africa, China, as well as domestic companies snapping up leases on thousands of hectares. This is land already intensively used in a country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world and where 80% of the people depend on farming for their livelihood.
As you stand by the sluice gates with the chalky brown water churning below, or you drive for the best part of an hour on the new road running alongside the vast canal, you get a sense of the dramatic scale and huge cost – estimated at US$54.7 million – of the project.
Big ambitions are about to be unleashed on this land of small, mud-walled villages, rice fields and grazing herds of cattle. Some villagers are hopeful that the new scheme will bring much needed irrigation and jobs to these desperately poor communities. Malibya has promoted its scheme as part of a bid to raise agricultural yields and improve food security in a country where many often go hungry.
"I'm not reassured by the promises," says Abduallai Kee, a member of the local farmers' union. "They tell the villagers that they will give compensation for land and that they will give jobs, but this is just to give villagers a feeling of having been 'consulted'." He has seen the maps of how the land will be parcelled out for mechanised rice production and fears that the dispossessed will have no choice but to work as day labourers.
No one knows if there has been an environmental-impact assessment or what attempt has been made to map how many people are living on this land. Already, the canal has blocked several important cattle routes. What adds to the sense of insecurity is that Mali has almost no private land titles and land is owned ultimately by the state. Traditionally, this has been interpreted with respect for customary land use – both for grazing and agriculture. But it is far from clear that the rights of those currently living on the land will be protected. Already, more than 150 families have been forced off the land to make way for the canal, and campaigners worry that this is only the start.
"The government are bandits. What they are doing is completely against every law," says Ibrahim Coulibaly, president of the Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes (CNOP), which has been organising protests. "Even if the land does belong to the government, the people living on it still have rights, and we will do everything to fight against this injustice."
The danger is that it will exacerbate food insecurity in a country where malnutrition is widespread and food production is already seriously threatened by climate change, argues Mark Butler, the country representative for the British aid agency Tearfund.
Georgette Foure saw her house and garden flattened to make way for the canal. She was paid the equivalent of just over US$800 for her house and fields. A widow and mother of six children, her eyes well up as she tells her story.
"I used to get a good harvest from my big garden and it helped me feed my family and pay for the children's education. Now we have nowhere to live. How would you feel if someone came early one morning and destroyed everything? It was unbelievable. They gave us some compensation but it was not enough, and the land they gave us is a big hole in the ground which we will have to fill before it can even be used to grow anything."
She smooths down her dress; ironically, it is made of fabric celebrating Mali's 50th anniversary and emblazoned with the slogan "The Fiftieth Is for You".
"It is hard to look ahead because my family depended on me. Now I work a little on other people's farms and doing odd jobs to survive. It's a nightmare and the only thing which gives me strength is to rely on God."
In the village of Kolongo, where Foure's house once stood, more villagers offer stories of inadequate compensation. The tumbled-down mud walls of their demolished homes are still evident beside the new canal.
Tienty Tangaka stands on the baked earth and rubble where his home and garden once stood. Beside him is the massive stump of a neem tree that was cut down to make way for the heavy equipment needed for construction.
"The compensation they gave was not enough to build a new house," he says, his clothes ragged. "We are very deeply shocked. I have lived here all my life but I was told my smallholding was not on the map used by Malibya to build the canal. They took me to the tribunal and I was told that I had built on land where building was not allowed – and I lost my home.
"This project is good for the government but it is not good for the people. Even before it has become operational we are seeing the drawbacks; once the gates opened on the canal, we saw all the water pour in; we knew there would be less water for others.
"We had meetings with Malibya but the compensation they have offered is too little for our families. We have no words to describe this betrayal. I'm not worried about myself – I'm 51 and in another 10 years I will be done. But my little children, I don't know what will be their future. I don't know how they will survive."
Standing in the ruins of Tangaka's old home, two brand-new phone masts are visible on the other side of the canal. There are also plans for an airstrip, which is fuelling suspicions that the rice produced is not destined for Mali but for export to Libya to meet the need for cheap food for its large migrant workforce. Like many Middle Eastern countries, oil-rich Libya imports large quantities of food and it needs to ensure cheap and plentiful supplies.
A little further on, just beyond Kolongo, in the village of Bourant, the David-and-Goliath conflict between these villagers and Malibya came to a head a few months ago. During his night shift, one construction worker noticed that the bulldozer was turning up human corpses. Without adequate maps, the construction team had stumbled into two adjacent cemeteries, one for Muslims and one for Christians. Uproar ensued, with nearby villagers grabbing farm tools to form a blockade against the bulldozers. Work stopped for several weeks.
Diarra Seynei takes us to the area beside the canal. "Considering the culture and traditions of Mali, this is a big shame, an insult to our values. This was the resting place of our parents," he says.
We walk on the bare earth along the dyke in the baking heat, listening to his story of outrage. We stumble on a fragment of human skull.
"They could have avoided the graveyard but they wanted to do the job quickly and they wanted the straight route. Many people cried when the bodies were taken from the graves. It was a big shock," he adds.
Worst of all, he says, there was no way to identify the broken bodies or to work out which bones were Muslim and which Christian for reburial in the new sites.
As we are talking, a large truck draws up. A Malibya manager approaches us, asking us what we are doing and tells us that the land is private property. Our guides talk vaguely of research and the manager is suspicious, insisting that we should have asked permission from his office. The atmosphere is tense, and we leave.
Local farmers risk losing their land and their livelihood, but perhaps the greatest risk of this project is the loss of water. Malibya has boasted that the new canal has the capacity for 11 million cubic metres a day, four billion cubic metres a year. Campaigners claim that is twice the capacity of any other canal in the region. Their concern is that neighbouring land will be deprived of water when stocks run low; they have heard rumours that Malibya has negotiated priority access to the water.
Water is everything in Mali: half the country is desert and the bulk of the population depends on the river Niger, which dominates the country's central belt and forms one of Africa's biggest inland swamps, an area crucial to Mali's rice production, fishing and nomadic cattle-herding economy. Further downstream, another five countries depend on its waters before it finally empties into the Atlantic in Nigeria. The Malibya deal is making not just many Malians anxious, it is making its neighbours uneasy as well.
03 Feb 2011 15:05
Mali has great scope for Agricultural Development
Mali has good scope for Agriculture.
Workshop Proceedings Bamako March 2008 has the summary on Agriculture in Mali:
PRO-POOR GROWTH AND THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURE IN MALI
The poor have derived little benefit from Mali’s brisk growth in recent years. Gold mining, a rapidly expanding sector, is not labour intensive. Agricultural production on the other hand, which is a key sector since the majority of poor people live in rural areas, is variable and rather weak due to well-known difficulties such as dependence on rainfall and the effects of other natural hazards. Poverty has thus declined a lot less than expected and urban/rural inequalities have increased. A new approach is needed if, as is hoped, the agricultural sector is to become the driver of strong growth that enhances the ability of the poor to participate in and benefit from economic activity. This will mean recognising agriculture as a private sector activity supported by incentives and taking measures to encourage more investment by private investors. (Source DAC NETWORK ON POVERTY REDUCTION).
If money grew on trees
February 02, 2011
Saving the world’s rain forests would be the cheapest way to stave off climate change. But, argues Fiona Harvey, without a business model that works, it is just a hopeless dream.
“REDD cannot succeed unless it generates income for the forested countries to ensure that trees are not illegally cut down, and looks after the needs of indigenous people … the cash required is many tens of billions of dollars a year.”
Seeing the wood
December 08, 2010
End of the hinterland
April 15, 2010
Forests at the frontline
October 16, 2009
Walking into the Amazon rain forest, the overwhelming impression is of the sheer abundance of its life. A savoury, soupy smell covers everything, as if nature were in the kitchen – the smell of vegetation sweltering in hot dampness. The noises bewilder, as you swivel to catch a monkey – or was it a bird? – crying as it flits away. Once, straying into a clearing where men had been illegally logging a Brazil nut tree, I was beset by a flurry of what I took to be small insects, fluttering about and landing on my jacket. On closer inspection, they turned out to be hundreds of tiny frogs, each about the size of a fingernail, exquisitely formed.
That we need to preserve such extraordinary places is self-evident – and not just for the glorious abundance of their life. We in the rich west need them for our own sakes, too. Forests represent some of the biggest stores of carbon on earth, and as trees are cut down they release their greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Saving the world’s last remaining forests would be by far the cheapest way to stave off climate change.
Governments have been locked in negotiations over how to save the world’s forests for more than 20 years. The key concern is rewarding forested nations for maintaining these extraordinary assets, which raises the question of how to compensate the people who live there for the lost opportunity of exploiting their forests for logging or farming.
In theory, it should not be a difficult task. Yet in all those years, the negotiators have managed to save scarcely a single tree.
In late November and early December 2010, ministers from around the world converged on Cancún in Mexico to discuss a global pact on tackling greenhouse-gas emissions. At 2009’s Copenhagen summit, leaders from developed and developing countries agreed for the first time to curb their emissions. But since then the fragile accord has disintegrated into a war of words, chiefly between the United States and China. The White House is also now hamstrung in what it can negotiate because of the hostility of congressional Republicans.
Consequently, Cancún was unlikely to result in much progress on a comprehensive global deal. So what many participants hoped was that by concentrating on one issue – preserving tropical forests – they could salvage something. A chorus of non-governmental organisations expressed confidence that the thorny issue of forestry was to being solved. Even hard-bitten negotiators were caught up in the excitement. “At least we will sort out forests this year,” one told me, hopefully.
I hadn’t the heart to reply that I had been told the same thing at each of the last six such meetings. Still less could I tell him my gloomy prediction – that the 2010 meeting would be the biggest failure yet, because although the world was closer than ever to agreeing a legal and practical framework on how forests should be preserved, we are further than ever from mustering the cash that is the pre-requisite for success.
Edouardo, who I meet at his home near a tiny settlement on the banks of the Amazon river, in Brazil’s Pará province, is typical of the small subsistence farmers of the area. He tells me how as a young father he brought his family here from a village some miles away. He found a convenient spot and made a small clearing to grow the crops his family survives on. Years later, a road was built and more people came to settle in the area. This made it easier for him to sell any surplus crops.
Edouardo is typical of the subsistence farmers who live in forests around the world, eking out a living on a small piece of land. Living so close to the forest, he regards himself as a part of its rich but fragile ecosystem. He laments the deforestation, and the incursions of cattle farmers.
Vital though it is to preserve the world’s forests, it would be wrong to blame small farmers like Edouardo, who are simply trying to feed their families in the only way they can. Any global climate deal must allow these farmers to make a living from their land, or offer them alternatives.
Worse by far are the cattle ranches. By flying over the Amazon, the scale of ranching in the region is quickly apparent. It is now the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, according to Greenpeace, which alleges that many of the Amazon’s products – beef and leather – find their way into luxury goods and western supermarkets.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), the subject of a large chunk of the Cancún talks, is supposed to stop all this. It consists of a series of rules, developed over several years, which should provide a formula to gauge the worth of forests – and a mechanism to finance their preservation.
REDD is now nearly complete. It may seem astonishing that this has taken so long, but finally most of the details have been sorted out. We now know, for instance, the correct definition of a tree, how much carbon can be locked up in different areas of land, and how the rights of indigenous people can be safeguarded.
“A lot of progress has been made on REDD – it’s seen as being one of the most positive things in the negotiations,” says Elizabeth Zelljadt, senior analyst at Point Carbon, a carbon market analyst division of Thomson Reuters. “The prospects are good.”
Only one problem remains. Where is the money? REDD cannot succeed unless it generates income for the forested countries to ensure that trees are not illegally cut down, and looks after the needs of indigenous people within these forests. Cash must also be poured into providing the people of these countries with other opportunities for economic growth, such as developing new industries so that people like Edouardo do not have to encroach on the forest to feed their families. At a conservative estimate, the cash required is many tens of billions of dollars a year.
Where will these funds come from? For years, rich and poor nations were locked in a fruitless struggle over whether it should be found in “government to government transfers” – that is, developed country taxpayers’ funds being diverted to poor country governments. Rich countries were reluctant to agree to this, preferring to rely on the private sector to generate funding.
Poor countries should have recognised the reality sooner. The lesson from overseas aid is that relying on the generosity of western taxpayers is a mug’s game. Take the funding agreed for REDD so far, which amounts to US$5 billion to $6 billion – in total, not per year – from governments including Germany and the United Kingdom, and chiefly Norway, which has taken a strong interest in this issue. This money is useful, but comes nowhere near the sums that will be needed.
To the question of how to bring in private-sector cash, we already have an answer – one worked out long ago, in the first seven years of these long-running talks. Carbon trading provides a system through which developed countries require their industries to reduce their emissions by a certain amount. Rather than only cutting their own emissions, businesses can offset the greenhouse gases they produce by buying carbon credits from developing countries. Those credits are awarded to projects that reduce emissions – wind farms, for example, or solar power plants. Or, in the case of REDD, projects that protect existing trees, or regrow trees on damaged land.
Over the past five years, since the European Union set up its carbon trading system, and since the United Nations began awarding credits – though not to forestry projects, as that had to wait for REDD to be drawn up – the global carbon trading system has grown to a value of US$144 billion, according to the World Bank. This has been achieved even though some of the world’s biggest economies – the United States and Japan, for instance – have been standing on the sidelines. With other big economies involved, carbon trading could easily generate the funding necessary to save the world’s forests.
Carbon trading has many opponents. Certain vociferous green campaigners compare it to medieval indulgences, by which sinners could carry on sinning if they paid the church. They complain that it does not reduce emissions – though in fact the system clearly does result in reductions if the targets are correctly set. More nuanced criticism comes from observers who say companies in the largest existing carbon trading scheme, within the European Union, have managed to game the system. But this can be stopped, with small revisions to the rules.
Currently, the real problem for carbon trading is that the United States seems extremely unlikely to take part. President Barack Obama promised a “cap-and-trade” system, but his political difficulties have put paid to that. Unless he wins a second presidential term -- in 2012 -- with a thumping majority in the House and Senate, there will be no carbon trading in the United States, and therefore no global system.
Without a global carbon trading system, where will the money for REDD come from? Zelljadt points to the private sector: companies may choose to offset their emissions by investing in REDD projects to burnish their reputation or fulfil their corporate social responsibility goals.
On current showing, however, this market is also unlikely to be much of a money-spinner. In 2009, companies and individuals spent about US$338 million to offset their emissions, according to Point Carbon. For 2010, it is likely to be less owing to the recession. Five years ago, analysts were projecting that these voluntary efforts on offsetting would amount to several billion a year by now. They overestimated the desire of companies to spend money when they don’t have to.
Without a sturdy fundraising mechanism, REDD is worthless. It is a beautiful vehicle, lovingly crafted down to the last elegant detail, but without an engine; so it is doomed to failure. The engine that could have generated the cash is no longer there. Carbon trading is languishing. It could be revived, with a mighty effort of political will.
02 Feb 2011 17:12
Why Preserve Rainforest Habitat?
Rainforests are some of the world's most ancient and complex ecosystems. They cover a mere 2% of the Earth, yet more than half of all plant and animal species live there. The rainforest is home to creatures as famous as the jaguar and poison dart frog, as well as lesser-known and even unidentified species.
These ecosystems are an amazing resource that is quickly slipping away. The rainforest is where many modern food staples originated, including tomatoes, corn, and chocolate, but we use a mere fraction of the edible plants available there. In addition, one quarter of modern medicines come from plant species that were first used as traditional remedies. Western science has analyzed less than one percent of rainforest plants for medicinal compounds, and the indigenous tribes that use these plants are rapidly disappearing.
To complicate matters more, the rate of species extinction in the rainforest is undeniably high.
*Facts and figures from: The Rainforest Alliance, World Health Organization, and the Rainforest Foundation.(Source: The Rainforest Site).
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP), IndiaMoving the masses
January 31, 2011
Struck by a spate of fatal landslides, Shaanxi plans to relocate 2.4 million people to safer ground. But will this ambitious programme work? Meng Dengke reports.
“The Land Bureau in Ankang city’s Hanbin district does not have a single geologist on its staff. In the entire city, there are only three.”
On December 7, a hugely ambitious resettlement project planned for Shaanxi province in north China secured approval in principle from the standing committee of the regional government. The scale of the plans is unprecedented, far outstripping the relocation of 1.5 million people to make way for the Three Gorges Dam project.
Draft proposals from November, seen by Southern Weekend, outline plans to move 2.4 million people from 28 counties in the municipalities of Hanzhong, Ankang and Shangluo between 2011 and 2020. The figure represents more than one quarter of the total population of these cities. Around 100 million square metres of buildings would be constructed to accommodate the relocated communities and the project cost would exceed 110 billion yuan (US$16.7 billion).
If it goes ahead as planned, this could end up being the largest resettlement project in China since 1949. But unlike past relocation programmes, carried out to make way for major infrastructure schemes, this one is an attempt to reach a compromise with nature.
Last year, extremely heavy rains in southern Shaanxi triggered a series of disastrous landslides. As acting governor Zhao Zhengyong said at the meeting to approve the government’s plan, in one case “Twenty people from a single village were buried in seconds. It was utterly heartbreaking.”
He was referring to the village of Qiyan, in Ankang. On the night of July 18, Qiyan was hit by a landslide that killed 12 people and left 17 more missing. The Lin family courtyard, a 200-year old building and home of nine generations, was buried under 40 metres of mud and stone.
To prevent another such tragedy, the relocation plan promises that the locations of new homes will have safe geological and hydrological conditions. It also commits to provide land for development and farming, good transportation and basic infrastructure such as power and water.
And, to encourage the 2.4 million villagers to leave willingly, the plan sets out a vision of an appealing new life: “The relocation will mean that every administrative village will have a clinic, while educational facilities will be provided for children of compulsory school age. We will aim to provide employment or technical training for at least one member of every household and every relocation area will have television and telephone connections.”
For southern Shaanxi, this would not just be a move from danger to safety, but a leap from poverty to a more comfortable life.
The adoption of such an ambitious plan has been forced by years of frequent geological disasters that have left villagers dead and their homes destroyed. There were more than 1,000 geological disasters in Shaanxi in 2010 – 10 times as many as the previous year, and the province’s south is deemed to be most at risk.
Three days after the disaster at Ankang, acting governor Zhao stood on the rubble and spoke in public for the first time about relocating those living on mountainsides threatened by landslides.
The part of the village hit by the landslide had been considered to be the safest spot by the locals. All of the village’s 24 buildings were located at the mouth of a valley, between two mountains, where the land was flattest.
But this careful planning did not prevent the village from suffering its worst landslide in 200 years. When asked about the response, Wang Fuxiang, deputy director of Ankang’s Bureau of Land Resources, with responsibility for geological disasters, can only sigh: there is really nothing he can do. Professor Zhao Fasuo, head of both the Institute of Geology at Chang’an University and the provincial disaster response team, found that 80% of the points affected by the Ankang landslide were outside of areas marked out for protection, let alone monitoring.
After July 18, Ankang doubled the number of locations with disaster prevention plans, to over 4,000. But this figure is still seen as conservative and Zhao is blunt – most of those examined were counties or villages where problems arose over the summer. Unaffected places simply weren’t looked at. Even the experts aren’t sure how many spots are actually at risk.
Wang Fuxiang believes Ankang was lucky to have avoided a disaster on the scale of the mudslide at Zhouqu, in Gansu province, which killed more than 1,200 people in August. “Look at the Ningshan or Ziyang county towns – they could be completely wiped out if we had a really bad downpour one year. It would be Zhouqu all over again.”
Wang knows what needs to be done – but is also aware that it’s a pipe dream: “If the conditions were right, we would do a full, professional survey of potential geological disaster points, but we just haven’t got the money or the technology.”
Between 2000 and 2002, responsibility for geological disasters shifted from the water authorities to the land authorities, and state funds were made available for what is still the only risk assessment ever to be carried out in Ankang. But this “assessment” only involved sending experts to locations that local officials had reported as hazards. “The technology used was very poor, and it mainly looked at the locations the water authorities already knew about and had historical records for.”
After the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, which displaced five million people in eight provinces including Shaanxi, Ankang invited geologists to examine more than 50 locations where significant geological changes had been noticed. Five or six obvious risk points were identified simply by looking at them – but there was no way to judge how many hazards were concealed from view.
The Land Bureau in Ankang city’s Hanbin district does not have a single geologist on its staff. In the entire city, there are only three. “We can’t claim to have any expertise worthy of the name,” admits Wang Fuxiang. If something goes wrong the team just has to respond as best as it can.
So, in the end, mass relocation has been deemed the only way to protect people. Zhao Fasuo believes the decision was helped along by the increased tendency for central government to blame local authorities for disasters recent years. Improved government finances, both at provincial and national level, have also made the resettlement project financially feasible.
But, as Zhao points out, the resettlement plan faces a vexing question: is anywhere in southern Shaanxi actually safe enough to settle millions of people?
One entire half of southern Shaanxi is prone to geological disasters. Experts describe the area as having a very weak geological environment, with locations at risk of landslides densely spread over a wide area. These disasters happen often, and cause huge damage. Where can enough safe land be found?
Take the urban district and nine counties of Ankang as an example. Only the main city and the county towns of Pingli and Hanyang have much flat land. “There is little even ground and virtually no room for city building on any scale,” says Wang Fuxiang, pointing out that the other seven county towns, which are built on slopes or gullies, “are not just unsafe – they’re extremely unsafe”.
And even if the city of Ankang is protected from geological disasters, it is still at huge risk from flooding. In 1983, a flood here killed more than 900 people, shocking both China and the world. Today, the locals say inundations happen every three years.
Zhao Fasuo is worried that the mass relocation will hit the same problems experienced by Hanzhong’s Ningqiang county, when it resettled communities badly hit by the Wenchuan earthquake. In the end, they were moved to a river course. Even then, there was little space, and a hill had to be levelled. “They did an evaluation and it was only a little safer than the original location. You couldn’t call it completely safe,” says Zhao. “The county government didn’t like it, but it was the only place they were able to find.”
Wang Fuxiang adds: “At best, we’re moving from somewhere that will see a disaster every 10 years to somewhere that will see one every two or three decades.”
Meng Dengke is a reporter at Southern Weekend and winner of the “investigative journalism” category at the 2010 Environmental Press Awards, jointly organised by chinadialogue and The Guardian. The 2011 awards are now open for entries from Chinese journalists. Read all the details here.
31 Jan 2011 16:46
Wise move but Gigantic Task
It is a wise move but at the same time a gigantic task. It only shows the Concern of Chinese Government on the welfare of the people.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), IndiaEcological wisdom of the ages
January 11, 2011
Longstanding Chinese ideals, which seek balance between man and nature, could help humans find a better way of living, writes Pan Yue, China’s vice minister for environmental protection.
“Although traditional Chinese culture is a product of an agricultural past, I firmly believe it contains universal values and can undergo a modern transformation.”
Traditional Chinese thought not only calls for the unity of man and nature, but provides the tools that allowed China to practice this principle for thousands of years. This is of great significance in the quest to solve today’s financial and ecological crises.
For the past century, China has studied the west and followed the western path of industrialisation. And while three decades of reform and opening up have brought astounding economic achievements, China has also concentrated into those 30 years levels of pollution it took the west a century to create.
China must not continue to follow in the footsteps of developed nations. Instead, it should take time re-examine western industrial civilisation and its own cultural traditions.
Western industrialism has its own characteristics and patterns. It is profit-driven and anthropocentric, runs on modern capitalism and is embodied in cities built on industry, commerce and finance. It has created great riches, but it has also done everything possible to shift its class, economic and social conflicts overseas.
However, industrial nations have found that they can export any kind of crisis except for one – the environmental crisis. Hurricanes hit both south-east Asia and New Orleans and rising sea levels will inundate both the small island nations of the Pacific and New York.
Faced with the inherent failings of western industrial civilisation, politicians and academics worldwide have started to re-examine the ecological wisdom of world cultures and ancient religions in search of solutions. In recent years, westerners with the necessary breadth of vision have turned to the east, and specifically to China.
China is unique and its most extraordinary characteristic is that, for thousands of years, it has maintained a nation state united by roots, language and ethnicity. This was possible only because of the deep ecological wisdom contained within the country’s cultural ideals. This wisdom permeates China’s ethics and institutions, is practiced in its way of life and perpetuated by its historical traditions.
The three schools at the heart of traditional Chinese culture are Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. Under their combined influences, the Chinese nation formed a unique cultural system – based on moderation, harmony and tolerance. This not only translated into ethical principles, but also informed a set of social systems and lifestyles, such as the civil service, the gentry and the education system. It advocated order, balance, tolerance and harmony, and is the root cause of the continuity of the Chinese nation. It is not, of course, without flaws, or it would never have led to revolution.
Some believe that the values of traditional Chinese culture, as a product of an agricultural age that no longer exists, are not applicable to today’s industrialised society. They are mistaken. All major religions stem from agricultural times, but they remain the spiritual pillars of civilisation and nurture the seeds of further progress. The Chinese tradition should not be abandoned. Its time has not yet passed.
The core of Chinese culture is the pursuit of the harmonious unity of man and nature. This value is expressed in actual institutions and lifestyles by the word du [literally “degree” or “limit”] – the concept of restraint, temperance, etiquette, balance and harmony. Du is the art of propriety, the balance of moderation and suitability, the wisdom of standing in society and acquiring knowledge. It represents the wisdom of the Chinese not just in politics, but in life and in human interaction with the environment.
This wisdom exists not just in the writings of the sages, but is strongly rooted in family values and social customs, and this is one of the great things about the Chinese tradition. In traditional society, a single set of principles linked state institutions and policy with the common people and the privileged; and the classical texts and texts of the sages with the lives of the public and the official class. These doctrines or dao [literally “the way”] apply to anything from the management of a household and making tea to commerce, swordsmanship and even drinking and the underworld.
Dao is spirit, principle and state. It links heavenly law and nature with human ethics and daily life. It seeks not the maximisation of material pleasure, but beauty and creativity, meaning that daily life in an ecological civilisation aspires to more than fame and riches. These may seem like minor things, but together they form the living practices of a healthy society. This steady, measured lifestyle moderates desire and seeks a rich and full spiritual life, capable of correcting the errors of consumerism and nihilism that western industrial civilisation has brought us.
Thousands of years ago, the parallel rise of western and eastern civilisation showed surprising similarities. Several millennia later, the two sides can surprise the world again, by joining forces on the platform of ecological civilisation. Although traditional Chinese culture is a product of an agricultural past, I firmly believe it contains universal values and can undergo a modern transformation. In just one century, China has transformed itself from an agricultural to an industrial civilisation. A further transformation to an ecological civilisation is entirely possible.
Pan Yue is vice minister at China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.
25 Jan 2011 12:06
污染和滥用我们最基本的自然资源 -空气和水，由于贪婪的资本主义企业，也是令人震惊。超过一半的总水量消耗在美国去灌溉土地范围内生长的牲畜饲料和饲料。额外数量巨大的水还必须使用洗去动物粪便。这将是很难设计出减少用水效率饮食比我们想来，作为正常的风格。为了生产一磅的肉需要一个2500加仑的水平均- 高达作为一个典型的家族所有的家庭在一个月内联合使用的目的。
Simply expressed, ecological wisdom is “whatever we take from the earth, we must give back to the earth.”
To uphold ecologically wise values, people must determine what can be done to practice sustainability in their own daily lives and then tackle the vast problems confronting all of us – pollution prevention, waste management, renewable energy and energy efficiency, conservation, liberation of animals from cruel practices, biodiversity, and enforcement of environmental laws currently not in force.
The pollution and misuse of our most basic natural resources – air and water, due to rapacious capitalistic enterprises is also appalling. Over half the total amount of water consumed in the United States goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Enormous additional quantities of water must also be used to wash away animal excrement. It would be hard to design a less water-efficient diet-style than the one we have come to think of as normal. To produce a single pound of meat takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water – as much as a typical family uses for all its combined household purposes in a month.