China’s efforts to make globalisation green

China may be the factory of the world, but new government approaches in areas such as forestry point the way to a greener model of growth, writes Lei Xiong.

To the environmentally conscious, recent comments by China’s leaders are encouraging.

At the recent seventeenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), CPC Central Committee general secretary, Hu Jintao, called on the Party to build an “ecological civilisation” while reiterating the “scientific outlook on development”, which features putting people first and ensuring comprehensive, harmonious and sustainable development.

At the fifteenth Economic Leaders’ Informal Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Sydney, Australia, in September, Hu, in his capacity as president of China, put forward an initiative to set up an Asia-Pacific Network on Forest Rehabilitation and Sustainable Management in order to better tackle global problems presented by climate change.

Prior to this proposal, China’s State Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Commerce jointly released in August the Guidelines for Sustainable Forestry Management by Chinese Enterprises Operating Overseas.

According to Chinese officials, this was the first document in the world aimed at regulating the overseas operations of a country’s businesses with regard to sustainable development.

Collectively, these developments mean Chinese enterprises going overseas for new investment opportunities must be more socially responsible and conscious of their impact on the environment. More than that, they mark a departure from the conventional approach to globalisation, in which advanced industries often enrich themselves at the expense of other nations’ environments.

The scientific outlook on development and the forestry guidelines push Chinese enterprises to do more than just abide by the law in their host countries. They must also contribute to local efforts to manage and preserve the environment and develop communities even if these are not provided for by local legislation.

According to the guidelines, a Chinese enterprise that has timber operations overseas must conduct an environmental impact assessment of its project before it enters the host country. It must also make sure its business will not create serious environmental problems.

To hedge against possible hazardous impacts on local people, the enterprise should also set aside funds for remedies or ecological compensation to help local residents increase incomes and engage in new environmentally friendly operations.

This represents a win-win model for all parties – Chinese enterprises, host countries and local communities. It requires managers to look beyond short-term profits. The concept of ecological civilisation and the scientific outlook on development will no doubt facilitate such a vision.

The effort to instill this vision in Chinese enterprises reflects China’s commitment to being a responsible power.

As Jin Jiaman, executive director of the Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute (GEI), put it: "To be a responsible power is not a mission of the government alone. Every enterprise, every civil organisation and every member of society has a share in it."

A non-governmental organisation providing market-based solutions to environmental problems, GEI was a key presence behind the scenes of the drafting of the overseas forestry management guidelines and is working with several governmental and financing institutions to thrash out some overall guidelines balancing the economic and ecological impacts of Chinese enterprises operating overseas.

The effort to push Chinese enterprises to take the spirit of China’s green policies with them overseas represents a new approach to globalisation.

People have seen China’s increasing imports of raw materials like timber, ore and oil; and some people are anxious about its impact on the environments of exporting countries.

Yet this big importer of these raw materials may not necessarily be the exclusive consumer of them. Because China is something of a factory for the world, a big proportion of the imported raw materials are transformed into products that are sent to industrialised countries in Europe and America.

In other words, many end consumers of the raw materials are not in China. Yet China takes the heat for using resources at the expense of other countries’ environments.

China cannot simply opt to dump "dirty" industries and become "cleaner", as many of its predecessors have done. In globalisation, there are always late-comers who step in to fill vacancies once the early birds leave the woods for a better habitat.

If China simply dumps its polluting industries without changing its pattern of development, other developing countries will easily take over.

That is why we applaud the concept of an ecological civilisation and the idea of having green policies go overseas together with Chinese enterprises. This arrangement could be the beginning of a new mode of globalisation: green globalisation.

The model of globalisation mobilized by the global capital has been too "brown" and benefited too few. It has tarnished many developing countries’ air, water and land and deprived many people of their health.

Based on the concepts of an ecological civilisation and the scientific outlook on development, green globalisation is sure to become a popular way to make this planet a better place to live on for everyone.

It may require time and difficult decisions to achieve the goals of green globalisation. But we have the conceptual framework, determination and measures like the forestry guidelines on our side. 


Xiong Lei is a council member of China Society for Human Rights Studies.

This article is reprinted with permission from China Daily

Homepage photo by Steve Webel