Sustainability and Growth in China

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Parker White
Energy and Sustainability Services, Asia Pacific

Can environmental sustainability be consistent with dynamic economic growth? China seems to be out to prove that it can.

For a long time, it seemed that environmental concerns were not on China’s radar screen. This issue received considerable media attention in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.  At the time, China was only two years into a five-year program to reduce carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions. In 2009, when it appeared that the country would miss its self-imposed goals, the government began enforcing strict regulations on particularly dirty heavy industry areas, in many cases forcing heavy polluting factories to shut down. As a result, China came close to its goal of reducing energy per unit of GDP by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010.

As detailed in our most recent Global Sustainability Perspective, China’s 2011 Five-Year Plan steps up its sustainability goals, with an additional 16 percent reduction in energy use per unit of GDP; a 17 percent reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP; a 30 percent reduction in water use per unit of value-added industrial output; a target of 11.4 percent of primary energy coming from alternative energy sources; and additional reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants.  At the same time, China is aiming for 8 percent annual GDP growth in emerging industries such as cleantech.  

One strategy that may help improve environmental performance while also accommodating growth is the creation of sustainable cities from the ground up, such as the Beijing Bohai Innovation City development announced recently. Designed to hold 17.6 million square meters of development, the project is organized around resource efficiency, a lot of open space, and a transit system that emphasizes trains, bicycles and pedestrian traffic.  It’s a bold plan to balance growth and sustainability.

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