"China’s economic transformation is vital to its long-term prosperity": Nicholas Stern on China's green growth

Reading time: 5 minutes
7 August 2014

LONDON: China’s effective climate mitigation and adaptation effort demonstrates that meaningful climate action can be achieved in tandem with sustainable economic growth, says Lord Nicholas Stern in an influential op-ed for the World Economic Forum.

The leading climate economist argues that China’s low carbon strategy provides a workable template on which other international actors can build, and in addition gives reason for optimism that an ambitious climate deal will be struck in Paris next year.

“China’s deepening commitment to sustainability could improve the chances that the United Nations climate conference in Paris in 2015 will produce a global agreement”, Stern asserts.

The LSE professor begins his analysis by outlining the conditions which led to China’s prioritization of environmental issues, highlighting that “pollution – produced largely through coal-fired power plants – is profoundly damaging citizens’ lives and livelihoods, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.”

These detrimental health impacts, coupled with the vulnerability of China to climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, as well as growing concerns about energy security, have prompted a change in public policy. The annual growth target has now been reduced to approximately 7.5% - a goal which indicates the government “recognizes the need to pursue more stable, higher-quality GDP growth”.

In line with this new vision for China, Stern notes the Asian leader is now the world’s largest investor in clean energy, with a US$68 billion spend on renewable energy development in 2012 and another US$54 billion invested last year.

In addition, “non-fossil energy supply more than doubled from 2005 to 2013 while the CO2 intensity of GDP fell by 28%”. Similarly, by developing a broad base of policies, China’s carbon emissions could peak by 2030 - even as the economy grows at a rate of 4-5%, Stern explains.

In fact, coal consumption is likely to peak by 2025, the academic adds.

Next year’s 13th Five-Year Plan, for 2016-2020, will be key to achieving this. The strict restrictions on coal consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as further investment in research and development, will ensure China continues to distinguish itself as a climate leader.

These changes will not only help to reduce global warming but will improve citizen wellbeing, the eminent economist acknowledges.

“The Chinese dream of a billion citizens living in thriving cities – with access to high-quality education, job opportunities in high-tech industries and a thriving services sector – can become reality.”

Stern concludes by appealing to governments worldwide to take heed of China’s policy shift and amend their own economic systems accordingly. International cooperation must not be limited to just emissions-reductions targets, but also must lead to “technology transfer, knowledge sharing and economic opportunity,” he asserts.

“While China’s economic transformation is vital to its long-term prosperity, it is one – albeit important – step toward mitigating the massive risks associated with climate change. Lasting progress will require a similar commitment from governments worldwide.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Image courtesy of World Economic Forum


By Alana Ryan

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