China's ecological civilization a profound contribution to humanity
Published: Aug 14, 2023 05:03 PM
A view of Yucun, a village in Zhejiang Province, in August 11, 2023. Photo:  Xinhua

A view of Yucun, a village in Zhejiang Province, in August 11, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Tuesday, August 15, marks China's first National Ecology Day. On August 15, 2005, 18 years ago, Xi Jinping, then Secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), first put forward the concept that green mountains are themselves gold mountains, when he visited Yucun, a village in Zhejiang Province.

At a national conference on ecological and environmental protection in July 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China should support high-quality development with a high-quality ecological environment and promote the modernization featuring the harmonious co-existence between human and nature. 

Over the past decades, China has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a world leader in renewable energy, electric vehicles, green public transport and biodiversity protection.

A BBC News article of June 29 noted that, of the half a trillion US dollars spent worldwide on wind and solar last year, China accounted for 55 percent. China's solar capacity is now greater than that of the rest of the world combined. Indeed, it can reasonably be considered as the first "renewable energy superpower."

Around 99 percent of the world's electric buses are in China, along with 70 percent of the world's high-speed rail. China is carrying out the largest reforestation project in the world, with forest coverage having doubled from 12 percent in 1980 to 24 percent last year.

And China's commitment to green development is only deepening. Environmental sustainability is a central theme at all levels of government, and the nation's ambitious goals to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 are actively informing China's economic strategy.

A detailed report by the San Francisco-based NGO Global Energy Monitor found that China's green energy targets for 2030 are likely to be reached in 2025. As the British environmentalist Mike Berners Lee wrote: "More than in most countries, if a policy idea is seen as a good thing, the Chinese can bring it about." This is of course a reflection of China's socialist system, which is structured in such a way that political and economic priorities are determined not by capital's drive for constant expansion but by the needs and aspirations of the people. 

China's sustained investment in renewable energy has meant a global reduction in costs, such that in much of the world, solar and wind power are increasingly price-competitive with fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency, China's huge investment in green energy has "contributed to a cost decline more than 80 percent, helping solar PV to become the most affordable electricity generation technology in many parts of the world."

China's construction of an ecological civilization constitutes a profound contribution to humanity. 

One might expect Western countries to be appreciative of China's role. It is precisely these countries that should really be taking the lead on sustainable development; after all, they are responsible for the bulk of historic emissions, and continue to top the charts when it comes to per-capita emissions. The New York Times reported in 2021 that "23 rich, developed countries are responsible for half of all historical CO2 emissions," with the US alone accounting for just under 25 percent, in spite of its representing just 4 percent of the global population.

The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, agreed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, makes it clear that rich, industrialised countries should be blazing a trail on preventing climate breakdown, and should be supporting developing countries to adopt an environmentally-friendly development model.

The unfortunate reality is that these rich countries have made barely any progress on tackling climate change. Inasmuch as they have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, it has been achieved largely through exporting their industry to manufacturing powerhouses in the developing world, principally China.

Meanwhile, the US' accelerating drive to preserve its hegemony at all costs is causing major setbacks to humanity's shared project of maintaining a planet fit for human habitation.

As part of its proxy war on Russia, the Biden administration has been heavily promoting sanctions on Russian gas and pushing Europe toward reducing its reliance on Russian energy long term. The results of this include a huge increase in US exports of fracked shale gas to Europe; a rise in coal consumption in Europe; and ramped up oil drilling in the North Sea.

This year alone, the US government has approved the enormous Willow oil drilling project on Alaska's North Slope - "a huge climate threat" which is "inconsistent with this administration's promises to take on the climate crisis," according to Jeremy Lieb of the environmental law group Earthjustice. The Biden administration also announced in May that it would sell off more than 73 million acres of waters in the Gulf of Mexico for purposes of offshore oil and gas drilling, thereby locking in fossil fuel development in the region for decades to come.

Germany, for decades a poster child of the renewable energy movement, has started reopening its coal mines. Its coal use is up, corresponding to a decrease in natural gas imported from Russia.

The British government is majorly backtracking on its climate commitments. Just a few days ago, with the world experiencing unprecedented temperatures - along with wildfires and floods - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to "max out" the country's oil and gas reserves, revealing plans for a new round of North Sea drilling.

The West should be cooperating with China on tackling the climate crisis - developing integrated supply chains, transmission capacity, biodiversity protection systems and more. What the US and its allies do instead is to impose blanket sanctions on China - on the basis of disgusting, absurd and false slanders about human rights abuses in Xinjiang - in a bid to cripple China's solar energy industry. It seems the slogan "better dead than red" lives on in the 21st century.

The governments of the Global South on the other hand, lacking the monstrous motivations of the new cold war, are enthusiastically cooperating with China and benefitting from its experience, support and investment. Prominent Tsinghua University economist Hu Angang writes that China's model can "provide southern countries with a new path leading to ecological civilization and development - the green development path."

Chinese financing for renewable power generation overseas has increased exponentially in the last decade, and now accounts for the large majority of Chinese-financed overseas power generation capacity. China is involved in huge renewable energy projects throughout Africa and Latin America.

Meanwhile, an important set of guidelines has been issued for greening the Belt and Road Initiative, identifying key steps to reduce emissions, reduce pollution and protect biodiversity in China-financed infrastructure projects worldwide.

The countries of the Global South are joining hands to build a greener future, while the West pushes repeatedly on the self-destruct button. Environmentalists in the West should draw the appropriate lessons, resolutely reject anti-China hysteria, oppose decoupling, oppose the new cold war, and promote maximum global cooperation to save the planet.

The author is a British author and independent political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn