If the air quality index in Brussels, Belgium reaches 50, traffic is stopped for the day. In China, it sometimes goes to 500 and beyond. Pollution does not stop at its borders, which makes China’s pollution everyone’s problem. The decisions China is making now can affect the Earths’ climate for the next thousand years.
It seems like a lost cause, as you or I have no influence on what happens in China. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The country already committed €277 billion to fight air pollution and makes large investments in renewable energy.
Peggy Liu is a leading voice when it comes to sustainability in China. As chairman of JUCCCE, she is dedicated to seeking out the best people and bringing them together to create ecolivable cities and clean energy, reimaging prosperity and developing sustainable diets. During her talk at TED2014, she says that China has six advantages to becoming a green economy faster that any other country in the world.
Why China can become a green economy faster than any other in the world
1. The political system allows centralized control.
Even though this does not align with Western approach, it leads to the advantage that the country can make large-scale changes quickly. For example, whereas California tried to create the largest high-speed rail system since 1990, China built it within a few years. China also banned plastic bags nationwide practically overnight.
2. The country has only a few decision makers.
China is the world’s largest consumer of energy. Most of this energy comes from coal-fired plants, one of the largest air polluters. However, the Chinese government is investing heavily in renewable energy technologies to cope with the demand, among these a smart (electrical) grid. China has only two utility companies. By passing information to key decision makers, the funding and building of the smart grid was done quickly.
3. Willingness to learn from others.
Lui is convinced that international coalitions on the ground in China can make a difference. Even more, change will depend on people from the outside who want to help.
4. Open for change.
According to Peggy Liu, in a way, China becomes a new country every five years. The challenge for her organization, right now, is to lead the 800 million people of the emerging middle class away from a desire for consumption and luxury goods towards a society focused on family, or as she calls it “a China Dream.”
5. Willingness to experiment.
China is moving from being the factory of the world towards being a clean-tech laboratory. There are tests for carbon emission trading schemes in several regions. The idea is to test commercially viable solutions, and if they work, scale them across the country.
6. High motivation
Compared to other countries, like the US, China has fewer resources and many more people to support. This is a serious threat for the country’s economic stability and national security. Eventually, this is the best motivator to change the status quo.
You might think China’s problems are too big to solve. Change will not happen overnight. However, because of these advantages and the size of the population, small changes will add up quickly.
Liu is convinced, “It only takes a few passionate individuals to make transformative change. So I ask, if you are frustrated by the small changes the world is making on climate change, why are you not in China, yet?”