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China making strides on sustainable development
  • (2018-08-17)

Nation fulfilling its duty as a major world power to enforce emission regulations and invest in pollution-reduction solutions

China's status as a major world power comes with much responsibility. Economic growth in the past few years has undoubtedly been at an all-time high, and the rate of China's progress in the technological fields of artificial intelligence, driverless cars and 5G is also world-class.

However, this rapid rate of growth means there is the risk that pollution emissions for the nation increase and cause damage to China and the rest of the world. Like other large progressive states, China has a duty to enforce emission regulations and invest in research for pollution-reduction solutions, something the nation is actively carrying out.

In 2007, there were only 59 million cars on China's roads. This was comparable to Germany's car population, a country just a fraction of China's immense size. By 2017, there were more than 220 million cars in China - an astronomical increase in carbon emissions to which the government has reacted quickly. This has presented an unprecedented challenge for the Chinese government to resolve.

In response, China has been quite eager in the past few years to lead the global electric vehicle industry. Tesla may be the brand most synonymous with electric cars, especially in countries such as Norway, where government subsidies are common, but China is determined to lead the global industry - aiming for annual sales of 7 million such vehicles by 2025.

China making strides on sustainable development

During the fourth quarter of last year, hazardous fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 was 54 percent lower in Beijing than during the same period in 2016. Across the country, other cities such as Tianjin have also seen their air quality improve by a similar rate, according to Greenpeace East Asia.

This has in large part been possible because the nation has enacted anti-pollution measures since 2013, through the national action plan on air pollution. This has effectively been enforced through a nationwide cap on coal and oil usage calibrated carefully for each province. Beijing, for example, had a target to reduce its coal emissions by 50 percent from 2013 to 2018. Manufacturing plants that attempted to introduce new coal-burning capacity have been banned, and the use of filters and scrubbers to clear out pollutant particles has been accelerated. A strict ban on excessive pollution activities, as well as incentives such as pricing and taxing heavily polluting industries, has proved to be an effective method in ensuring that China has a positive environmental impact on the rest of the world. Further government restrictions were imposed in October and lasted until mid-March to ensure progress.

The new Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which has strong enforcement powers, has also been a motivation for the nation to clean itself up. Cities across China, due to regulations from the new ministry, have promised to convert nearly 4 million homes from coal-burning to fully functional gas and electric households. Coal emissions in hospitals and schools have also been reduced under these new rules.

One of the reasons that such rapid results have been attained is that coal-polluting industries in China are largely State-owned, and so new and innovative approaches to cutting fuel emissions are easily controlled. More than half of China's pollution comes from coal-powered stations, meaning the government has a clear and relatively straightforward priority when it comes to improving the quality of the environment.

Developments in contemporary technologies such as solar panels have also had an effect on air quality. Internationally, prices of solar panels have dropped significantly, allowing for the sheer scale of China's clean energy investment to pull through. It is estimated that China's spending on solar panel technology is more than twice that of the United States. In addition, two-thirds of the world's solar panels are produced in China, according to research organization Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Global leaders in the solar panel industry call China home, including Jinko Solar Holding Co and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co.

In the past, rising levels of smog and environmental damage have unfortunately been seen by many countries as an unavoidable, inevitable and somewhat necessary byproduct of a country's rising economic power. However, for China, sustainable development is a priority. GDP growth in the country was 6.9 percent last year, indicating the government's willingness to tolerate comparatively slower short-term growth while addressing long-term environmental issues. In years to come, it may seem that the green lane is the smoothest road to national success.

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