powerstation.jpgChina's huge environmental problems are well known. We have been written about them several times in EngagingChina and they get mentioned in the autopsies on the UN's recent Nairobi conference on climate change — see this Economist story for example.

But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities,
particularly for western companies with the skills, technologies and
capital to help China clean up its act.

We are thus disappointed to see how some western commentators prefer
to keep stressing the negative and down-play the growing evidence that
China knows it has a problem and is working in the right direction.
Whether it is working sufficiently fast is open to much debate, of
course.

Nevertheless, there is much hypocrisy and hysteria around this topic
and its hardly surprising that China prefers not to pop its head above
the parapet — the Economist laments the few number of Chinese
delegates in Nairobi, for example.

The latest bullet targeted at China comes from Thomas Friedman in a New York Times article ($)
which concedes that China knows it has a problem but questions whether
China has the political will to do much about the environment. He
writes:

I would argue that the same kind of bruising effort it took for Deng
Xiaoping to move China from communism to capitalism will be required to
move China from its polluting model of capitalism to a sustainable
one…Without a new cultural revolution to make China more green, more
sustainable, the Chinese growth juggernaut will destroy itself.

Accusations of foot-dragging and lip-service could be levelled at
many countries — most notably the US, the world's biggest emitter of CO2, which signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Arguably, that decision done more damage to the environment than
China's recent growth spurt. In particular, it allowed developing
nations to argue quite plausibly that if the US was not going to
sacrifice economic growth to help the environment, then neither would
they.

In his article, Friedman accepts that China has tried to improve the
environment at the macro policy level through setting
emission-reduction and efficiency targets in its five-year plans.

But the last set of “green” targets were missed and the current ones
are likely to remain just as elusive as long as China — along with
ever other nation — continues to prioritise growth for growth's sake.
Unless local officials start getting fired en masse for missing their
environmental targets, the situation is unlikely to change, he argues.

Can China move to sustainable growth model? That is the big
question, of course, and the answer will not be know for many years.
But recognising you have a problem is the first step to solving it, and
that creates plenty of opportunities for western businesses that want
to help China turn green.

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