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Caring for the earth that is ‘borrowed from our children’

04 February 2012
Caring for the earth that is ‘borrowed from our children’

By Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group. 

(February 4, 2012)

As the Native American proverb goes: ‘We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

Recent natural disasters have raised our awareness of the fragility of human beings as a species. We're slowly realizing that the process of industrialization and the accumulation of wealth over the past 200 years have placed a burden on the earth that it can hardly bear. The depletion of resources and reserves of energy is foreseeable. Pollutants have diffused to every corner on earth. The ecological system, on which humans have always relied, is rapidly losing its ability to provide resources and services. Biodiversity is on the decline with a number of species in the face of endangerment and even extinction.

Human beings are on the one hand excited about the lifting of living standards, and on the other, apprehended by health problems attributed to the deterioration of the environment. 

In 2011, journalists often raised questions on the Mayan 2012 'doomsday' prophecy and its related issues. To believe or not to, is the question. A faith holder is soon conceived of as a ‘pessimist’. A denier is often thought to be overvaluing the power of technological development. Whether or not the Mayan prophesy should hold true,  many people are now beginning to think more deeply around the subject spotlighted by the Native American proverb, and considering how we can return this earth ‘borrowed from our children.’  How shall we explain to our offspring the reasons for the devastated earth? Will our descendants accept our apologies?

But it's by no means a new awareness. Global society has been carrying out movements to care for, explore, repair, and preserve the earth over the past two decades. The ‘Rio Declaration’ announced in 1992 is the self-reflection and commitment made by this generation to the next. ‘Agenda 21’ is the movements and resolution of that commitment passed down by people today. Sustainable development is the consensus reached by global leaders. Taking into consideration different phases of development, segmentation in wealth, historical responsibilities and other elements, the global society consent and accept unanimously the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’

The voice of future generations was first delivered soundly and clearly at the Rio Earth Summit

Then 20 years flew past. 2012 is a milestone of the Rio Summit at its 20th anniversary. The globe is once again busy preparing for the next Earth Summit. There will be more conclusions, reflections, and ideals. More declarations and commitments will be made. A green economy seems to have been embraced by the global society as a path and resort to realize sustainable development.

To attain a new consensus at the Rio Summit in June, the United Nation is currently working on negotiations between countries and on preparations for the documents to be signed at Rio. If you have been keeping abreast of the debates, it is not hard to perceive that with the increasingly complicating international situation, consensus can be easily proposed, yet requires much effort to be reached. The actual movements, those in need of the support of consensus in particular, are turning more pervasive, and mostly bottom-up. The movements involve the society as a whole, including the government, corporations, the mass, and all kinds of groups regardless of age, race, and wealth. Every civilian on earth must take part in the movements. 

In the face of such complex and ever-changing international situation, China’s actions have been in the limelight of the world. Recently, China is enjoying a large economic scale, ever-rising competitiveness and the power of the state, while confronting drastic increase in consumption of resources and energy as well as pollutants. Moreover, China has become more integrated into the global economy, with the two more reliant on each other. All these facts require China to propose to the world the strategy, policy, and plans for green economy and sustainable development in the second decade of the 21th century.

China’s 125 Plan has greatly plotted out an accurate status and movements with regard to the strategy of domestic sustainable development. The gradual perfection of domestic policies, laws, and standards, lays a solid foundation for the various targets set in the 125 Plan. What China is currently lacking in though, is the proposal of our perspective, and suggestions on movements towards sustainable growth to the world.

  • With the continuous outflow of China’s capital, the environmental principles and the implementation of the principles during the process of overseas investment are one of the urgent problems. We should learn the lessons and gain in experience. Based on what we have acquired, China should bring up and set up related laws and regulations according to the latest international situations, with a view to restricting the environmental behavior held as Chinese capital moves abroad. At the same time, in this highly globalized era, China needs to gain consensus so as to make these laws and regulations the principles to which all foreign investors conform.
  • The depletion of resources and energy has become a vital factor of limitation on the world’s sustainable development. With the advance of technology, substitution and reduction of resources are the unavoidable trend. The elevation of resources utilizing efficiency, or so-called ‘jié yuē’ (conservation) in traditional China, should be accounted for when the global society plans strategies on resources. China should aggressively go hand in hand with other states and all sectors to come up with and put into practice the effective paths and resorts to substitution, reduction, as well as conservation, thus promoting another Clean Revolution of resources and energy. 
  • Climate change is hitherto an area in which the globe finds difficult to come up with a consensus. China, ranking the first in carbon emissions, must shoulder the significant responsibility of adaption and reaction to the climate change without any excuses. We should combine the next phase of innovation with the strategic opportunities of green development, fundamentally alternating the economic and industrial structure, thus elevating our competitiveness in technology and industries. We should lead the global Clean Revolution when it comes to energy, new energy and energy efficiency. We should take the initiatives in promoting research and movements with regard to reduction on emission and adaptation to the climate change.

You may more often than not hear children starting up following conversations: ‘Nature seems to be in complete chaos’; ‘The adults are talking about the weather AGAIN, as always.’; ‘Stick to it and do a bit a day, then we can make great achievements someday. We will all become super heroes!’ When you hear the sincere voice of these children and when you look into their shining eyes, what will flash into your mind? How will you react?

Back to the proverb: ‘We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’ The vastness of China and her deep and pervasive influences makes China the leader in propelling the world economic Clean Revolution that will not just preserve the land for future generations, but let it prosper. 

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