Chinese Low Carbon era: Action creates the future

Low carbon economy is not just a way of life; it is also an outlook and an attitude. China is now rapidly progressing toward being a low-carbon society

low carbon economy China
College students draw pictures on their T-shirts appealing for low-carbon life.

Confucius Institute Reporter
Zhang Rui and Deng Danfeng
“Walk or drive?” “Climb the stairs or to take the elevator?” “Use paper napkins or a handkerchief?” These are choices that are seriously considered by an increasing number of Chinese people. A recent low carbon Web survey conducted among 15,000 city-dwelling white-collar workers shows that 73% of the people have the habit of using both sides of their napkins, 83% of them use their own shopping bags, and 83% are willing to participate in environmental-protection activities.

Using one less plastic bag means 0.1 gram less carbon dioxide emitted; reducing the brightness of a computer monitor screen can result in 65 grams less emission every day; setting an air-conditioner’s temperature 1higher during the summer can reduce daily emission by 175 grams. These “low carbon” calculations are entering the lives of ordinary Chinese through various channels including television, newspapers, and advertising.

low carbon economy China
Earth Hour celebration

Low Carbon: China in action

Wei Jie, a stylish young man, is a white-collar worker of a foreign company in Shanghai. The suit-wearing Wei Jie goes in and out of premium office buildings on a daily basis, and yet he always goes to work on a pair of roller skates – the most environment-friendly and low-carbon mode of transportation. Wei Jie has total control of his time. When colleagues unhappily come in late because of traffic jams, he tells them: “Rollerskate to work. This way you can not only save the transportation costs but also reduce carbon emission. It’s like getting two ice creams for the price of one!”

In China, stylish young people like Wei Jie are not many, but there is an increasing number who join the “low-carbon group” in various ways. Many white-collar workers have the habit of using both sides of photo-copy paper; many have their computer in “sleep” mode when they are not using it in order to reduce energy consumption; some child-rearing websites have lots of stylish mums who are there to trade “second-hand” baby clothes and toys; in restaurants, customers who bring their own chopsticks, refusing to use disposable utensils, are no longer a rarity.

More and more Chinese are saying “No” to one-time consumption and are becoming interested in modifying used items, making it a stylish and creative activity. Making a vase by wrapping silk ribbons around an empty wine bottle; painting a dead tree branch white and then decorating it into a chic lamp; sewing used clothes together to make a toilet seat pad … There is no limit to creativity in this area. Nor is all this confined to action, for people share the joy of turning waste into treasures by exchanging experiences in modifying used items through the Internet and community events.

Low carbon is a low-cost, lost-price way of life. It eases the burden on people as well as on the Earth itself. As mankind practices a green way of life, the Earth “smiles”.

To the generation of Wei Jie’s parents, one that has been through hard times, thriftiness has long become a common virtue. Granny Wang , who lives in Xi’an, is over sixty. She waters her f lowers with the water used to rinse her ric e, mops the floor using water that has washed her clothes, and then flushes the toilet with the water that was used for mopping the floor. Although she has had a washing machine for more than ten years, Granny Wang insists on hand-washing small pieces because it “saves both water and electricity”. Some young people used to consider such behavior of the older generation old-fashioned; however, as low-carbon ideas gain popularity, people are beginning to realize that the ultimate stylishness lies in just such thriftiness.

Be they of the fashion-conscious younger generation or of the ever thrifty older generation, more and more Chinese people are now in earnest action, joining the trend toward low-carbon living and environmental-protection. In the words of Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, reducing carbon dioxide emission is a process where “the public have the power to change the future”. Low carbon is a low-cost, lost-price way of life. It eases the burden on people as well as on the Earth itself. As mankind practices a green way of life, the Earth “smiles”.

low carbon economy China
The 2010 Spring Book Fair in Beijing advocated “low-carbon reading”. An area for exchanging second-hand books was established at the fair.

Low carbon, but better living

At eight o’clock in the morning, Mr. Zhao picks up two colleagues who live in the Huilongguan apartment complex and drives them to work. To Mr. Zhao, carpooling not only saves fuel and protects the environment but also helps build camaraderie among colleagues. His carpooling started in 2008, the year when Beijing’s city government, in an effort to reduce air pollution and ease traffic congestion, issued a “driving restriction decree” which thenceforward forbid vehicles from the road for one particular day of the week according to the last digits of their license plate numbers. Although some car owners didn’t understand this at first, they gradually noticed that clear skies appeared more and more frequently: In 2009, the number of days when Beijing’s air quality was rated Second Grade or better reached 285. Meanwhile, the ever-developing public transportation has made it more convenient to travel. In cities like Hangzhou and Xi’an, where the economy develops at a relatively faster pace, governments also encourage citizens to refrain from driving one day per week and go as far as distributing eco-friendly bags and promoting waste classification and recycling.

“Environmental problems that emerged in stages during a few hundred years of industrialization in developed countries have appeared in concentration in our country during the 30 years of rapid development since the reform and opening to the world.” In the view of Zhou Shengxian, China’s Minister of Environmental Protection, the fragile Earth would hardly be able to sustain a China that follows the suit of some developed countries by “polluting the environment and then treating it”. There is no conflict between the pursuit of economic development and the cause of low carbon and environmental protection. Indeed, the kind of low-carbon economy now vigorously advocated by the Chinese government involves thorough integration of just these two elements.

Low-carbon concepts have been incorporated into every aspect of the country’s economic construction. China is now rapidly progressing toward being a low-carbon society.

In fact, China’s action started early. The end of 2006 saw the publication of China’s National Assessment Report on Climate Change. On the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, China promised to reduce carbon dioxide emission per GDP unit by 40-50% of the 2005 level by the year 2020, a target that has been incorporated into the Program of National Economic Development, which is a binding document. The Chinese government has worked actively to adjust the energy structure, develop renewable economy and environmental protection industries, and push the growth of low-carbon economy. Low-carbon concepts have been incorporated into every aspect of the country’s economic construction. China is now rapidly progressing toward being a low-carbon society.

Low-carbon concepts are going beyond cities into rural households. Green technologies involving the likes of marsh gas utilization, organic fertilization and water-saving irrigation show promise in a central and eastern parts of the country and have become the wave of the future. When Mr. Zhao visited his hometown in the Northeast for 2010’s Spring Festival, the present that he gave his parents was a solar panel water heater. In the past, heating water used to be a very troublesome chore: a large cauldron was used, firewood and kindling were brought into the house, and smoke and fires had to be endured. Now there is hot water as long as the sun shines. Because such green technologies have improved farmers’ lives while saving energy and protecting the environment, they enjoy universal popularity in rural areas. It is obvious, then, that the pursuit of low carbon is about making life better rather than compromising its quality.

Low carbon is not just a way of life; it is also an outlook and an attitude. The progress of human civilization is enhanced when people change from excessively exploiting energy sources to improving efficiency in order to conserve those resources and living in harmony with nature. More and more businesses, individuals, and nongovernmental groups are taking initiatives. In China, many urban families have participated in tree-planting activities. In 2009 alone, voluntary tree-planting participation reached 590 million person-times, resulting in the planting of 2.48 billion. As part of the “Million Forests Project”, launched many years ago by the China Green Foundation and the United Nations Environment Program, people have adopted and donated trees in arid western regions in an effort to improve the climate through their own action. Green has brought us refreshment; it has brought a better life and greater vitality to China.

low carbon economy China
We can often see advertisements which advocate the concept of urban low-carbon life in the streets of many big cities in China.

A beautiful blueprint for a low-carbon China

As one of the major highlights of the World Expo that was celebrated in Shanghai, the low-carbon theme drawn attention from all over the world. Low-carbon concepts find their expressions everywhere within the Expo Park: The Expo’s Theme Pavilion Building had in one of its outside walls a 5,000-square-meter Eco Green Wall, the world’s largest; there were more than 30 thousand square meters of solar panels on the outside surfaces of the buildings in the Park, capable of generating 2.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which translates into a 2,800-ton reduction of carbon dioxide emission. More than 1,000 alternative-energy vehicles were in use, realizing “zero emission” from public transportation within the Park. There was no doubt that the Shanghai Expo leaded the world’s cities into the future, for it allowed us to see in advance a home that is clean, energy-saving, and environment-friendly.

As a national consensus has now been built around the need to transform the mode of China’s economic development and adjust its economic structure, low-carbon economy will become the new engine of China’s economic development.

This is the world’s dream and China’s dream even more. During the 2010 National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, “low carbon” became hot words among the delegates. Discussions of “Proposition No. 1” of the People’s Political Consultative Conference revolved around low-carbon economy. Low-carbon industries have received unprecedented attention. State Council Premier Wen Jiabao has stated that China will vigorously develop and promote low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies, actively develop alternative and renewable sources of energy, speed the process of making China greener, work hard to build a industrial system and a mode of consumption with low carbon emission as a characteristic, actively participate in international collaboration aimed at coping with climate changes, and push for better management of global climate changes.

This is China’s proclamation to the world. It creates a beautiful blueprint for China’s economic development. As a national consensus has now been built around the need to transform the mode of China’s economic development and adjust its economic structure, low-carbon economy will become the new engine of China’s economic development. China is walking hand-in-hand with the rest of the world into an era of low carbon with love and responsibility so as to leave richer resources to our descendants.

Turning off a light for one hour will reduce emission by 5500g of carbon dioxide.

Turning off a light for one hour will reduce emission by 5500g of carbon dioxide.

Using one less plastic bag will reduce emission by 0.1g carbon dioxide.

Using one less plastic bag will reduce emission by 0.1g carbon dioxide.


Driving a car one day less will reduce emission by 8170g carbon dioxide.

Confucius Institute Magazine 08

pdfPublished in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 08. Volume III. May 2010.
View/Download the print issue in PDF


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