A New Approach to Solving Climate Change, Part 4: China

This is the last installment of the series that I wrote for Next Gen Journal!

No matter what policies Bolivia or the United States institute, China must also be committed to mitigating climate change. It is one of the fastest growing economies with urban development at the heart of expansion. But environmental awareness has not accompanied this growth. 70% of China’s energy comes from coal, which is the most pollutive fossil fuel. Car pollution is rampant in cities as the number of vehicles in China surpasses 100 million. Emissions standards are low. Urban sprawl continues unchecked. Air quality is a significant problem, and the list of environmental problems continues.

China’s massive population means that environmental solutions must be adoptable on a wide-scale. The public does not have an awareness about climate change. International organizations and activists come to China to try to create a movement. I lived in Shanghai for three months, and I met with the leading environmental groups to learn about their strategies and goals. One organization, Greennovate, helps Chinese businesses go green. They also have environmental presentations in local high schools and have a “train the trainer” program to enable Chinese citizens to become environmental leaders in their communities. Another group, called Wellness Works, helps Chinese people reconnect with nature, promoting the idea that “what’s good for me is good for the planet.” Another major organization, the China GreenTech Initiative, acts as a liason between the government and business to help entrepreneurs and CEOs understand green incentives.

While these organizations have fantastic intentions, they are run by foreigners, creating a culture gap that most Chinese citizens will not cross. This gap has prevented external influences from initiating an environmental movement in Shanghai. Therefore a more sustainable China needs Chinese environmental activists and government involvement. The former is becoming more and more predominant as citizens fight to protect their resources. The latter is increasing, as well, but much more must be done.

The Chinese government can effect sweeping change quickly. In 2008, China banned all plastic bags. This action significantly reduced pollution and saved 1.6 million tons of oil. Not even most developed countries have been able to achieve this reform. China recently took measures to reduce one of the most harmful pollutants, PM 2.5. China’s 12th 5-year plan also contains plans to cut energy intensity by 16% and carbon intensity by 17%. China is currently on track to reduce carbon intensity 40-45% by 2020. They are one of the only countries to be on target for these kinds of standards.

The government can only do so much without the people. China needs its own authentic approach that empowers individuals to be green and brings environmentalism into mainstream consciousness. People need opportunities to recycle through efficient infrastructures that reduce emissions and close the waste loop. There is evidence that the government is moving in this direction. In the most recent 5-year plan, China called for a system that would recycle 70% of waste products by 2015. This will have societal ramifications beyond waste reduction. In conjunction with recycling, education programs are needed to help individuals understand why it is important that they recycle in the first place. Accessible opportunities and education will engage China’s massive population and reduce their environmental impact.

We are living in a time when climate change is affecting a majority of the globe in a tangible, real, powerful, and frightening way. Scientific data has concluded that climate change is accelerating at an unprecedented pace. Humanity must change its fossil-fuel-consuming ways and find alternative sources of energy. The world has the tools to begin a transition not only to a green economy, but a green society.

Diverse cultures, economies, resources, and growth patterns mean that distinct national strategies will be required to effect a global shift. As this series has illustrated, the United States, Bolivia, and China have different needs and must approach mitigation in their own way. Otherwise legislation will not be able to create meaningful sustainable change. International coordination can be more effective once nations create and commit to policies that will reduce their emissions and galvanize public support for environmental awareness. This is a crucial step towards creating a more sustainable future for our lives and those that follow.

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