January 23, 2009


JFS Evolves toward "Asia for Sustainability" -- China's Environmental Initiatives, Part 2

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.76 (December 2008)
Written by Junko Edahiro, Co-Chief Executive, Japan for Sustainability

Japan for Sustainability (JFS) has been working to be a driving force toward a sustainable Japan and sustainable world by spreading environmental information from Japan to the world. And I hope that JFS will evolve into Asia for Sustainability (AFS), and eventually World for Sustainability (WFS).

First of all, we would like to provide more information on environmental activities and thinking in Asia. To that end, here we present the second article of a series.

On October 27, 2008, I interviewed Dr. Lin Jiabin, the Deputy Director of the Department of Social Development Research at the Development Research Center, State Council, P.R. China. For an hour and a half, I talked with him about China's environmental policies, particularly about global warming measures. Here is the last part of my dialog with Dr. Lin.


EDAHIRO: With China's large population, its carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption per capita are very small compared to more developed countries. In contrast, though, in advanced Chinese cities like Beijing, many people live as affluently, or even more affluently, than people in developed countries. Beijing has progressed so much that it is hard to believe that it is a part of a developing country. In fact, you might even say that this big developing country called China also contains an advanced country as large as Japan. Perhaps you really need two major policy approaches, one adapted for the China that is a poor developing country and one for the China that is an affluent, advanced country.
What do you think?

DR. LIN: Yes, that is how I see it too. More and more people waste so many things, and a certain class of people is being especially wasteful, even though this is a developing country.

Meanwhile, many old habits still remain from the poorer past. For example, people often go to restaurants and order more food than they can eat, and then leave the extra food behind on their plates. I call it the "poor man's consumer culture." To change their consumption behavior, we are considering graduated system of utility rates for things such as electricity and water. With this system, the more people consume, the higher rates they pay. Also, we have not yet introduced inheritance and property taxes for individuals, so we are considering such taxes in the future in order to redistribute income and narrow the gap among people.

EDAHIRO: What do you think are the major upcoming challenges facing the implementation of China's environmental policies?

DR. LIN: I think there are two major challenges. One is how we can create a transition in the public's awareness. One of the most effective measures available is to promote environmental education. Although today it is being introduced in school education, we need to make further efforts to promote it on an ongoing basis. Actually, my children are in the generation that received such an education, and their behavior is clearly different from their elders', such as their efforts to turn off the lights at home when not needed.

The other challenge is how we can make innovations in the resource price mechanism. We can say that current resource prices are kept down by price controls, which leads to wasteful use of resources. So it is important to change the pricing mechanism in order to reduce resource consumption.

EDAHIRO: What kinds of activities are Chinese environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in?

DR. LIN: First of all, Chinese NGOs are required to register with the relevant government authorities. Under the present system, the authorities take responsibility if any problems occur in regard to the NGOs under their jurisdiction, so they are not likely to register NGOs that engage in activities that might be troublesome for the government.

Of those registered, there are many environmental NGOs, including ones that are nationally active, such as Friends of Nature, Global Village of Beijing, and the Xiamen Greencross Association. With no financial support from the government, most NGOs in China appear to be funded by foreign NGOs or companies.

Friends of Nature is well known for campaigning for the conservation of endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys in Yunnan Province, and Global Village of Beijing is making efforts in environmental education and awareness raising by creating and promoting movies about environment conservation. I heard that the Xiamen Greencross Association is supported by Toyota Corp., with funds from the Toyota Environmental Protection Aid Program for China's Youth.

EDAHIRO: How about the level of environmental awareness and the initiatives of Chinese corporations?

DR LIN: Leading companies in China have started taking action based on the idea of corporate social responsibility. This year, the World Environmental Center, a U.S.-based NGO, and the China Enterprise Confederation established an award to recognize model companies that are active in environmental initiatives. The 2008 Gold Medal is to be awarded to China International Marine Containers Co. (CIMC). Let me introduce this company.

CIMC has grown rapidly since the 1990s, and has become the largest container company in the world, surpassing its competitors in Japan and South Korea. The CEO of the company is actively promoting the development of green technologies and environmental initiatives. He says that, "Just engaging in price competition will get us nowhere. We must find other ways to achieve corporate excellence."

The company's environmental efforts include reexamining the materials they use to make their containers. In the past, the company used timber from tropical rainforests, but switched to wood from sustainably-managed forests and bamboo, thus helping to reduce rainforest destruction. The company is also active in saving energy. Its company-wide campaign successfully achieved a 30 percent reduction in electricity consumption by improving its production processes, among others. This reduction, of course, is also beneficial to the company's balance sheet. Furthermore, CIMC developed environment-friendly paints containing no volatile organic compounds, and uses them on its container products.

EDAHIRO: What do you expect from future cooperation with Japan?

DR LIN: I think that China can learn a lot from the past experience of industrialized nations, especially Japan. European countries and the United States took 150 years to be industrialized, and Japan took only half of that. Now, China is rapidly moving toward industrialization, and it is expected to achieve the goal within half the years that Japan took.

In the past, problems accompanying industrialization occurred gradually over decades, but China is facing intensive and interrelated environmental problems, because of its unprecedented speed of industrialization. Since Japan achieved rapid growth in a relatively short period of time, learning from its approaches and technologies is very helpful to China.

EDAHIRO: What research themes do you have in mind for the Development Research Center, as well as for yourself?

DR LIN: I think that considerable research has been conducted on the production side, but there has not been enough done on the consumption side. So, we should pay more attention to consumer-oriented approaches and activities, such as those regarding sustainable consumption. I think Japan and China can join forces to conduct research and initiatives in this field. If we work together, for example, to find a way to make people think it is fashionable to participate in environmental activities, and encourage them to act, then the collaboration will be beneficial for both sides.