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China: Transformation Leads to Opportunities
Source: chinadaily.com.cn
Source Date: Thursday, April 15, 2010
Country: China
Created: Apr 19, 2010

In the last three decades China has undergone a remarkable transformation. The highly planned and centralized country of the 1970s has given way to a dynamic market economy that has caught the attention of the world.

Since 1979, with the introduction of reforms, China's GDP has grown at an average of 9.8 percent per annum; per capita income has increased fifty-fold and some 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty.

This high level of GDP growth is already on track to continue despite the international financial and economic crises experienced in 2008/9. In China, many of the Millennium Development Goals have already been achieved. Chinese people are now wealthier, better educated and healthier than ever before.

Yet out of this unprecedented economic and social progress significant new challenges have emerged, not least the challenge of balancing further economic development with environmental sustainability, and with the need to respond to the threat of climate change

Indeed, many would argue that it is only by tackling these challenges that China can safeguard the gains it has made in economic development and poverty reduction and lay the basis for more. Anyone who has witnessed this year's drought in southwest China will be acutely aware of the potential for climate change, if left untackled, to threaten the livelihoods of the population, particularly the poorest.

Fortunately, China's leadership attaches great importance to achieving balance between the economy and the environment.

Moreover, it is increasingly being recognized that the move to a low carbon economy need not be a hindrance, and that instead, a low carbon approach can be a catalyst for further growth and development, and for sustainable improvements in the lives of ordinary Chinese people.

That is not to say that the move to a low carbon economy will be painless. As energy-inefficient factories are closed, there may be consequences for local economies and for workers.

For example, a recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that 600,000 workers may lose their jobs as a result of the closure of just a small number of coal-fired manufacturing plants. It will be important to ensure that such workers have access to social security in the short term, and to opportunities to retrain for jobs in the new green economy. And, at provincial and local levels, there may still be more to do to support and incentivize officials to move further toward the green economy model.

The opportunities for China in doing so are great. By further investing in a green economy and green growth underpinned by emerging green technologies, China has the chance to leapfrog over decades of traditional development based on highly polluting fuels. There is also an invaluable window of opportunity to build new low-carbon communities from scratch. In the next 20 years, 350 million people are expected to move into Chinese cities, using housing and transport infrastructure that is yet to be built.

The green economy would yield dividends in other areas too, from improved human health to the protection of vital ecosystems.

China's political commitment to developing a low carbon economy and society was made clear at the UN Climate Change Summit in September 2009, when President Hu Jintao committed China to "to step up efforts to develop a green economy, low-carbon and circular economy, and enhance research, development and dissemination of climate friendly technologies".

In November 2009, China made its commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 percent to 45 percent compared with 2005 levels. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are already seizing some of the opportunities of the low-carbon development model, with a renewable energy sector already worth $17 billion and employing close to one million workers.

For the United Nations, tackling climate change and supporting the move to a low carbon economy and society are also of the utmost importance.

The UN Secretary-General has called climate change the "defining issue of our generation". In Beijing in July 2009, he noted that "China has long been the world's fastest-growing major economy. It is also a leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and it is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Thus China's progress on achieving sustainable economic and energy policies simultaneously is crucial not just for the citizens of China, but also for the citizens of the whole world."

Given the importance of these issues to China and to the world, the United Nations in China has a strong and growing portfolio of work on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and on the broader move to a low carbon economy. Indeed, one of the three overall outcomes of the UN's framework for supporting China over the next five years is that 'Government and other stakeholders ensure environmental sustainability, address climate change, and promote a green, low carbon economy'.

In this context, UNDP China has taken an initiative to focus this year's National Human Development Report on the topic of "Sustainable Future: Towards a Low Carbon Economy and Sustainable Society". By analyzing both the risks and potential benefits to China of a shift to a low carbon economy and society, it is hoped that the new report will provide a considered contribution to China's rapidly evolving policies in this area.

The report highlights that, if China can fully grasp the opportunities at hand, it will be possible to move to a society which is not only environmentally sustainable, but which creates the conditions for greater job creation, greater resource efficiency and energy security, enhanced food security, and better health outcomes for its people. Such a society would, in line with China's own Xiaokang vision, be well balanced, moderately prosperous, and would support poverty reduction, development and environmental sustainability both in China and the wider world.
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