China’s ambition for greener growth is real – and expedient – as the country moves closer to keeping its commitments, panellists agreed at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, which opened today in Dalian. Despite the country’s current economic slowdown, political leaders are strongly committed to green growth as the country rebalances its economy to overcome unsustainable economic growth rates and focuses on renewable energy technologies.
Changhua Wu, Director, Greater China, Climate Group, People’s Republic of China, told participants, “The biggest driver is energy and the commitments are well thought through.” She added: “They are trying to create a shared value that is in harmony with nature that can result in green, low-carbon growth and a circular economy that is environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.” Wu pointed to specific, mandatory targets set last year and noted that the government is building up governance mechanisms to support them.
Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, United Kingdom, said that frameworks must be in place to ensure “better growth, better development and better climate”. He added: “The government is taking this [issue] to heart.” Polman reminded participants that “we are hitting planetary boundaries” and singled out three issues to focus on to reverse current trends: urbanization and greener cities; agriculture and land use; and energy.
The Asia-Pacific region will invest $2.5 trillion in renewables as part of its power capacity needs for 2030. “This will mean tremendous opportunities [for technology and innovation] and for businesses to protect their business models,” he said. “The cost of not acting is higher than the cost of acting.”
Gao Jifan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Trina Solar, People’s Republic of China, said that ecological green growth and development is going to be China’s growth strategy. “By 2030, we must reach the peak of carbon emissions,” he reminded participants. “Over the last few years, the renewable energy industry, particularly wind and solar, has seen rapid growth.”
According to Gao, non-fossil sources comprise about 10% of the country’s energy mix and are set to grow. Worldwide, subsidies for renewables are often not well targeted and the electricity cannot feed into the grid, he added. However, because the cost of PV solar panels is dropping due to new technology, by 2025, solar energy will survive without subsidies.
Over the past 40 years, China’s burgeoning coal-fuelled economic development lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but resulted in the country becoming the world’s largest consumer of energy and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2013, China consumed more than 4 billion tons of coal.
Oleg V. Deripaska, President, RUSAL, Russian Federation, said that while China has made a huge commitment to green growth, its growth trajectory over the past 15 years has created many challenges. “The energy balance is not properly structured and there hasn’t been enough action so far,” he said. Deripaska pointed to the persistent use of coal to power the cement, steel, aluminium and glass industries. “These companies are not profitable and cannot invest in modernization,” he said. “Carbon control should be the real issue.”
Wu countered that China has cracked down on coal-fired plants and is a “world leader” in green coal technologies. She agreed that, to reduce the country’s coal emissions, more resources need to be put into innovation.
Panellists concurred that China’s plan to put a price on carbon is a positive step forward in meeting the country’s commitments to green growth and to the targets expected to be agreed upon at the UN Climate Summit Change Conference to be held in Paris in 2015, where world leaders are likely to agree on a new and ambitious agreement.