China can go green, so long as it acts now and drops the delusion that solar farms and wind turbines will do the job. In a recent report, Jun Ma, the chief China economist at Deutsche Bank, argued that the government needs "big bang measures," including sharp reductions in coal usage and automobile demand and massive investments in clean energy, subways and railways.
The problem is political will. Flush with $3.3 trillion of currency reserves, China has the money to succeed. Yet almost any route it takes to go green requires slower growth. China's leaders for the next 10 years, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, are under pressure to boost today's 7.9 percent growth rate and placate a populace seething over income inequality.
Bulls assume China can emulate Britain's success in overcoming the Great Smog of the 1950s, when airborne pollutants killed 4,000 people. Yet China is significantly more reliant on manufacturing than the U.K. was then. Also, enterprising politicians are making way too much money from the current structure to tolerate a quick shift toward a more services-based economy. That means smokestacks may continue to foul Asia's skies for years to come.
China is reaching its physical limits, and the unchecked pursuit of economic growth now offers rewards that are compromised by environmental degradation. The strains are becoming a geopolitical headache that will reach a whole new level once PM2.5 becomes China's main export.
David Fuller's view Particulate pollution - PM10
and PM2.5 is a global problem but
probably worse in China than anywhere else, due to the country's industrialised
economy, large population and very rapid growth. China's conundrum: How can
it maintain GDP growth and simultaneously engineer a significant reduction in
The problem is massive for China but the means of lowering pollution without economic collapse are known and increasingly utilised by successful developed economies, from industrialised Germany to crowded Singapore. Moreover, the accelerated rate of technological innovation will provide additional means of reducing pollution.
China's new rulers could significantly reduce their pollution problem over the next 10 years with a carrot and stick approach for industry, coupled with a nationwide educational programme, focussing on health benefits and the quality of life. GDP growth might slow over the medium term but it would also be more sustainable over the longer term.