Stephen Roach praises China's successful efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of its economic growth - despite its per capita output being barely more than one-third the level in the so-called advanced economies

Stephen Roach praises China's successful efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of its economic growth - despite its per capita output being barely more than one-third the level in the so-called advanced economies

In the here and now of climate change, it is easy to lose sight of important signs of progress. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is a case in point.

By changing its economic model, shifting its sources of fuel, developing new transportation systems, and embracing eco-friendly urbanisation, China’s sustainability strategy is an example of global leadership that the rest of the world should consider very carefully.

In the rush to demonise China over trade, the West has missed this point altogether.

In the past 12 years, China’s economic structure has shifted dramatically from excessive reliance on smokestack manufacturing industries to low-carbon services. Back in 2006, the so-called secondary sector of GDP – largely manufacturing but also including construction and utility production — accounted for 48% of Chinese GDP, while the tertiary, or services, sector accounted for just 42% of GDP. By 2018, the shares had been reversed – 41% of GDP for the secondary sector and 52% for services. For large economies, structural changes of this magnitude in such a short period are virtually unprecedented.

This shift was no accident. In March 2007, former Premier Wen Jiabao famously warned of a Chinese economy that was becoming increasingly “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” This sparked a vigorous debate over sustainability risks that had a major impact on China’s most recent five-year plans and reforms. The leadership concluded that the Chinese economy could no longer afford to stay the energy- and pollution-intensive course set by Deng Xiaoping’s hyper-growth gambit in the early 1980s.

Consistent with this dramatic structural transformation, China has been aggressive in shifting the mix of its fuel consumption away from carbon-intensive coal to oil, natural gas, hydro, and renewables. Although coal still accounted for 58% of China’s total primary energy consumption in 2018 – more than three times the 18% share in the rest of the world – that is down sharply from 74% in 2006, the year before Wen’s “Four Uns” first drew serious attention to sustainability.

Significantly, China is leading the world in embracing non-carbon renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal biomass. In 2018, China’s renewables consumption was 38% larger than that in the United States and triple that of Germany. While renewables still account for just 4% of China’s total primary energy consumption, they have been growing by 25% annually over the past five years (including 29% growth in 2018). If China remains on this path, then renewables could hit 20% of China’s total energy consumption by 2025 – a major breakthrough on the road to a cleaner, less carbon-intensive economy.

China’s rapidly changing transportation model is a third key component of its sustainability strategy. China has the world’s largest high-speed rail network, the fastest-growing subway system, and is leading all efforts in the rush to embrace electric vehicles. According to World Bank estimates, China is expected to exceed 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) of installed high-speed rail by next year, up from more than 25,000 kilometers by 2017, and to add considerably more in the years ahead. This energy-efficient mode of long-distance connectivity stands in sharp contrast to the carbon-intensive transportation network created the US interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s.

Finally, the urban environment – obviously critical to any sustainability challenge – is especially important in China where rapid urbanisation still has about three decades to go, with the urban share of its population likely to rise from nearly 60% at present to 80% by 2050. Yes, as in other countries, roads in China’s major cities are severely congested. But China is doing something about it, boasting seven of the world’s 12 longest subway networks. Moreover, China’s electric vehicles (EV) market dwarfs those elsewhere, with sales of over 500,000 EVs in 2017, versus slightly less than 200,000 in the US and Europe. And China’s EV lead is projected to widen considerably over the next decade.

China also stands out for its focus on a new eco-city urban model, featuring low-energy construction materials, light mass transportation, and well-planned “green space” urban pockets. The Xiong’an New Area, planned as a “subsidiary center” south of Beijing, is particularly noteworthy in this regard, as is the existing Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city and Hainan’s recently announced plan to shift to all clean-energy vehicles. According to one recent estimate, China currently has plans to construct over 250 eco-cities. As a relative latecomer to urbanisation, China has the opportunity to rely on new models of city planning and energy efficiency that were not available to the first movers in the industrial world.

Is all this enough to make a difference for China and the planet? The good news is that China’s share of global emissions has flattened out, albeit at a high level. China’s share of global carbon dioxide emissions doubled from 14% in 2001 to 28% 2011, but has not increased since. While China’s CO2 emissions did rise by 2.2% in 2018, that was less than in the US (2.6%), Russia (4.2%), and India (7.0%) while falling well short of outright declines of 1.6% and 2% in Europe and Japan, respectively.

Alas, the good news in China is probably not good enough for a planet that many judge to be already in crisis. It’s one thing to bend the curve and stabilise the emissions share. It’s a different matter altogether to achieve the 20% reduction in the level of emissions as originally stipulated in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Nonetheless, by shifting away from carbon-intensive manufacturing to low-energy services, and embracing EVs, high-speed rail, and eco-friendly urbanisation – and likely to stay the course on all these trends – China is setting a high bar for the rest of the world.

While the trade war is important, China is winning the far more important battle for sustainability. To its credit, China is focusing on this battle at a point when its per capita output is barely more than one-third the level in the so-called advanced economies. A relatively poor country has made a conscious choice to shift its focus from the quantity to the quality of growth.

What about the rest of us?


Stephen S. Roach, a faculty member at Yale University and former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, is the author of Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019, published here with permission.

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On 30 September 2019, Beijing Da Xing International Airport will be in operation as a part of the celebration of 70th anniversary of the founding of China.

On 1 October, there will be the most grandiose military parade in front of Tiananmen at centre of Beijing. This will be live broadcast on YouTube.

May China be more prosperous under the leadership of China Communist Party.

I hope you are right; the chinese population deserve more.

GDP per capita in China is expected to be 8,250.00 USD by the end of this quarter, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts expectations.
Taiwan's Nominal GDP Per Capita is forecasted to be 25,447.50 USD in Dec 2019 as reported by International Monetary Fund - World Economic Outlook.

Thing is.....if the Kuomintang had won the civil war, then China would probably already be the world's largest economy.

There is a reason why Gou Min Dang (国民党 or Nationalist Party of China) could not win the civil war between 1945 and 1949.

*chortle* there are always reasons for winners & losers, CCP Parody Bot. Unfortunately China got Mao and decades of regressive policy, social & cultural destruction, millions of unnecessary deaths. So with Mao and his regime winning the civil war, China lost a lot. I think that's sound reasoning of the country's recent history.

Thought China had been around for more than 70 years. So who did build the Great Wall?

Mexico. Great wall builders.

And where exactly did Marco Polo go?

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Whilst I respect Stephen Roach and his article is full of accurate data, Interest does lean towards positive articles re China and does not balance these with articles on the other side of the argument. At the same time Interest is highly critical of Trump's policies re trade war especially as does not give room for articles outlining the basis for his gripe against China and its policies branching WTO rules since 2001. This inherent slant shows that NZ hierarchy, in terms of political leaning, is favouring China on an economic basis, rather than USA on a freedom and culture basis.

Probably because the NZ hierarchy has business interests in China?

To be fair Stephen Roach did write "" China .... its per capita output is barely more than one-third the level in the so-called advanced. A relatively poor country has ...."". This accurately describes China - it may be getting richer rapidly but has a long long way to go to catch up Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore & Taiwan for standard of living.

China deserves a lot of criticism for its policies and political approach, but also let's not forget about all the dubious US military and foreign policy activity in recent decades around the world, before we put its culture and freedom on a pedestal.

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Sustainability? Let's start with the ethnic cleansing, organ harvesting, and violent suppression of peaceful protests against the authoritarian government.

Praising China for it's relatively low environmental impact? You must be out of your tree! Actually, looking at all the articles Stephen Roach has posted to interest.co.nz, he's nothing but a pro-china sycophant.

You must have been watching and reading a tremendous amount of fake news from BBC and CNN.

I feel sorry for your brain damage.

I tell you just one statistics from World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

According to UNWTO, there were 130 million Chinese nationals travelling overseas in 2018 and same 130 million Chinese people returned home to China.

Why on earth did they return to China after going overseas if China were a hell as described by you?

Brain is a good thing. Please use it from time to time.

In the last week, drone footage has emerged of thousands of blindfolded men in Xinjiang being moved from trains by soldiers. Where have we seen this before? We said it would never happen again.

The Tiananmen Square massacre is not fake news, both China and the west agree that it happened. The only dispute is the number (in thousands) of students that were murdered.

You think some tourists returning home means there are no issues in China? What about all the Chinese living in the west who speak out, and their entire family back home disappears?

I still think you're trolling however in the odd chance you're not:

I for one like to form my opinions based on reading a range of diverse viewpoints and angles, openly considering and rationalizing them. I can understand this may be difficult for you if you have only being exposed to CCP propaganda, both in the HEAVILY controlled Chinese media and even here in the Chinese Herald. I challenge you to look at different outlets and research to try and get a grasp on the real CCP. You may surprise yourself.

I use brain. I read glorious UNTWO report. I learn 135 million China holiday travelers in 2016, but BIG problem! They need work or residency visa to live in other country. Have to go back home to work after paying for holiday. Like me. So unfair. Brain damaged world. News everywhere so fake, like Big Man Trump say. Me sit in dark and cry.

O dear. u getting touchy. U china mouth piece and think u know china.
I know truth bout china.

There is nothing sustainable about the embodied emissions in the proposed "250 eco-cities". China continues to use at least 10 times more CO2 emitting cement than any other country.

So a guy who happens to run a bank in Asia pens a China eco friendly piece. Yawn.

Then we have our resident China bot spew pro CCP drivel. Interest, you are better than this.

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Praising China for environmentalism is like praising the Mongrel Mob for their 'community outreach'.

It comes from a place of deep ignorance (of China) and prejudice (against the US). Seems par for the course on this site unfortunately.

Believing ANY number published by the CCP is an indication you need your head checked.

"embracing eco-friendly urbanisation"

theres no such thing ... cities are hubs of better waste maximisation

"shifted dramatically from excessive reliance on smokestack manufacturing industries to low-carbon services"

The old red herring that services exist in some industrial vaccuum. Consuming is consuming. Debt is debt.
Or can we all just take each others washing in and have a clean economy?

You can't trust any statistics that come out of China. Just a little real research reveals that only about 200m Chinese are doing ok, that leaves another 1.1 billion struggling, and within that there are millions barely eking out a living. That's why in China there's growing discontent about the belt and road project, people are muttering that they haven't sorted their own house so why are they 'splurging' money on the rest of the world. Answer= vanity. That chicken will come home to roost.