Measuring the Climate of Chinese Political Emissions

China begins to lead on global climate policy while seeking to appease domestic audiences

Smog crisis continues in Beijing

BEIJING – While the world debates how to tackle climate change, China long criticised by the west for not doing enough to curb their emissions, has been forced to act. Chinese efforts to combat climate change however are motivated more by concerns about domestic harmony and stability than anything else.

Developed nations such as the United States must find ways to reduce industrial CO2 emissions from industrial sources and look at ways to limit and then retire reliance on coal fired power stations. This makes sense not only from an environmental standpoint but also a national security one. If you import fossil fuels to keep your economy running on a day to day basis claim and also claim to be a global superpower then you are asking for trouble. For China, their greatest economic challenge is finding a way to incentivise the reduction of fossil outputs not from industrial sources but residential dwellings. Already, the government has offered incentive schemes to the poor but they are being met with resistance.

“We ordinary people are comparatively poor,” says Yao Junhua, a 61-year old farmer who lives in a village of single-story homes separated by half-built brick walls and stacks of dried cornstalks. “We want to buy a few pieces of good coal, save some money. We don’t want to spend money on coal we can’t light.” (Source: AP)

Middle class Chinese have taken to blogging and Weibo (Chinese Twitter) to rail about the smog, the effect of harmful PM2.5 particles on their lungs and to lament at the scourge of what they allege is local government corruption. Sentiments such as these motivate the ruling government in China to appease the new growing middle class.

The chinese economy is on the verge of going green. Courtesy of Reuters, Photo: Suzie Wong


The impressive new generation of entrepreneurs

As China struggles through deadly winter smog caused by the burning of coal from residential dwellings, a new class of entrepreneurial millennials is steadily rising. This class is not middle class, but it’s not poor either. Their aims are as diverse as the products or services they offer but they all share a common story – their wealth is earned not inherited and the government aims to appease them as much as possible.

On June 16, 2015 the government released what was interpreted as very much a nod toward this new generation of millennial entrepreneurs.

“It is imperative that we intensify structural reform, boost efforts to implement the strategy of pursuing innovation-driven development, and all institutional obstacles should be moved to give way to mass entrepreneurship and innovation” said the statement released via the Chinese government’s English press release service.

Real estate entrepreneur Wang Shi, is no millennial, but is a passionate environmentalist concerned about the lack of progress towards addressing climate change.

“I believe the chinese government will play more and more importance [sic]” he said when interviewed by CTGN Africa’s reporter Dan Williams.

Of the top 10 in china’s young gun rich list, eight are self-made billionaires. 33 year old Wang Yue is one of those millennials who as CEO of Shanghai Kingnet Technology has amassed a self-made fortune of $1.1 billion from online games. Yang Huiyan, 29, made similar levels of wealth through her property development company Country Garden. In 2007, her net worth was a staggering $16.2 billion and although it has since dropped quite a bit since then due to problems with her company it remains higher than your average 29 year old sitting at a comfortable $4.5 billion. Li Zhaohui of Haixin Industrial and Song Rui of Shindoo Chemical Industry are number 172 and 365 respectively on the China forbes rich list. Both making their fortune from not very climate friendly industrials and manufacturing. Li nets a relatively respectable $900 million while Song’s wealth comes in at $525 million.

Smog and heavy pollution is crippling daily life in some of China’s biggest urban population centres. Photo by Kevin Frayer / Getty Images


Finding new leadership in Asia

As Donald Trump made waves in the west over his Nov 6 presidential election victory and Russia makes headlines each and every week, the Chinese were quietly getting on with the job of taking leadership on climate change. Where in the past China has been lectured to by the United States on taking action to reduce greenhouse emissions, the new Trump White House promises to be a reversal of that paradigm. While Mr. Obama has set in motion plans to reduce coal emissions in the domestic United States by 2025, a Trump presidency, surrounded by sceptical advisers and climate change deniers appointed to lead environmental agencies, is going to likely face criticism from Beijing. Donald Trump via New York Times has already made it clear he wants to cancel the Paris climate accord.

As previously mentioned, China’s motivations for reducing greenhouse emissions are mostly domestic with an aim to preserve social harmony. There is another factor at play Salon recently pointed out putting forward a view that China plans to become a global export leader in innovative green technologies. In many ways, tackling climate change and aggressively standing up in defence of the Paris climate accords is an opportunity to project “soft power” on the world stage for the Chinese state.

The challenge for china will not be easy. They will have to not only develop those technologies but do so in a way that doesn’t limit the quality of life for people such as 61 year old Yao Junhua nor limited the entrepreneurial spirit of china’s emerging “millennial rich list”.

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