Published: 23:41, April 24, 2023 | Updated: 09:48, April 25, 2023
China proves itself a real friend of Mother Earth
By Ho Lok-sang

April 22 has been Earth Day every year since 1970. Earth Day was brought into the world by the United States. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency: “In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day. ... Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different US cities, and it worked! In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the US Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Unfortunately, the US since then has not been a consistent nor fervent protector of Mother Earth. In contrast, China deserves to be called the real friend of Mother Earth.

The US walked away at least two times from major global initiatives to fight climate change. Then-vice-president Al Gore played an important role in putting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol together on behalf of the US, but the US Senate refused to ratify it. The US is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which had been in place since 1992. The US also had played an important part in the conclusion of the Paris Agreement and its entry into force. Yet then-president Donald Trump reversed the support that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had given to the Paris Agreement. A New York Times report in 2017 was titled The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History. It Just Walked Away From the Paris Climate Deal. Although the US under President Joe Biden in January 2021 rejoined the Paris Agreement, his decision to approve the Willow Project in Alaska disappointed environmentalists and brought into doubt his credibility. Over the course of 30 years, an estimated 278 million metric tons of carbon pollution is expected to be released. It is doubtful how the US can honor its pledge of federal government carbon neutrality by 2050.

This year, the population of India will surpass that of China, whose population shrank for the first time in 2022 to 1.4118 billion, down from 1.4126 billion the year before. China had advocated birth control since its establishment in 1949, and in 1980 the one-child policy was officially implemented. Although parents within some ethnic minority groups or those whose firstborn was handicapped were allowed to have more than one child, the policy did entail much sacrifice on many Chinese families. Yet the sacrifice translates to a real gain for Mother Earth, as the burden imposed on Earth by each human is very heavy, and as per capita income rises, the toll on sustainability can rise exponentially. Today, even though China tops the world in total greenhouse gas emissions, a big portion of its output is consumed by the rest of the world, and emissions per capita falls far short of that of the US.

What is even more remarkable is that China is the leader in renewable-energy investment. A story published in Scientific American on Jan 30 noted that “nearly half of the world’s low-carbon spending took place in China,” citing Bloomberg NEF. “The country spent $546 billion in 2022 on investments that included solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and batteries,” it continued. “That is nearly four times the amount of US investments, which totaled $141 billion. The European Union was second to China with $180 billion in clean energy investments.”

Unlike the US, China continues to staunchly support the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that the People’s Republic of China will “aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”. Historically, China delivers what it pledges. The timeline as promised may not be particularly ambitious, but for China, which is known as the factory of the world and the world’s No 1 exporter, it is most challenging. A recent story in China Daily (April 20) noted that the proportion of China’s clean electricity is expected to reach 70 percent of total terminal consumption by 2060. Presently, this proportion stands at 27 percent.

While China is doing what it can at home to reduce CO2 emissions, it is also contributing to the climate-change fight in the rest of the world. China has been sharing its clean energy and power interconnection project technology and experience with other countries via the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization initiative. This international organization was established in China in 2016 and is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization with firms, associations, institutions and individuals from 141 countries dedicated to promoting sustainable development of energy. The worldwide value of exported photosensitive semiconductor devices including photovoltaic cells used to convert sunlight into electric electricity was $72.3 billion for 2021. Of this, the Chinese mainland’s share was $33.5 billion, while Hong Kong’s was $4.1 billion.

China under President Xi has made remarkable progress in cleaning up its water bodies and atmosphere. It leads the world in afforestation and has added 243,000 square miles (62.94 million hectares) of forests, representing 40 percent growth in forest cover over the 30 years to 2020. China’s latest Global Civilization Initiative proposed earlier this year, it is hoped, will remind all that we need to work together and not to fight each other to build a truly civilized world.

The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.