China to boost efforts tackling climate change, promote green vision for Belt and Road project

HONG KONG - China will boost efforts to develop a low-carbon economy to deal with climate change and promote its green vision for the Belt and Road Initiative, said Mr Xie Zhenhua, this year's Lui Che Woo Prize winner.

Mr Xie, China's special representative on climate change, said the country will also strive to achieve international consensus on sustainable development. He made these comments during an exclusive interview with China Daily in Hong Kong.

Mr Xie received HK$20 million (S$3 million), one of the awards under the prize, for his efforts in tackling climate change, including his contributions in helping to conclude the Paris Agreement in 2015, a global treaty signed by 195 countries to stop global warming.

"We honour his achievements in preventing climate change and thus ensuring a sustainable future not only in China but also globally", said prize recommendation committee chairman Professor Lawrence Lau Juen Yee, according to the South China Morning Post.

The annual Lui Che Woo Prize, set up by property tycoon and casino owner Lui Chee Woo in 2015, is given to individuals and organisations with outstanding achievements in three areas: sustainable development of the world, betterment of the welfare of mankind, and promotion of positive life attitude.

Mr Xie said the Chinese government, leading the biggest developing country in the world, had accepted a great environmental responsibility - to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"Meanwhile, it will also strike a balance to foster economic growth which is as green as possible," Mr Xie said prior to the award ceremony. "Renewable energy so far is the best way to help the nation create a prosperous low-carbon economy. It's the biggest trend in the world's energy sector."

Mr Xie said he wants to further encourage technological exchanges on advanced renewable energy between countries and regions along the Belt and Road routes. This is in order to meet rising global demand for energy, according to China Daily.

RENEWABLES INVESTMENT

Over the past years, China has been the world's leader in domestic investment in renewables. In 2015, the Chinese mainland accounted for 40 per cent of global renewable power growth, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an autonomous intergovernmental organisation designated to promote clean energy. The strongest growth has been seen in wind and solar energy, according to the IEA's report.

In 2015, two wind turbines were installed every hour. Impressive new solar power operations were installed in 2016; the Chinese mainland now has about half of the world's total new solar power capacity.

As for now, the non-fossil fuels, including hydro, wind, solar and biomass energy, will reach 13.3 per cent of the mainland's total energy consumption, according to the report. It is intended to rise to 15 per cent by 2020 and 20 per cent by 2030.

This is in line with the promises set out in the Paris Agreement.

Mr Xie said the central government had been working hard to increase its potential to find substitutes for fossil fuels, China Daily reported.

The rampant process of burning of fossil fuel to create energy has released large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which traps the solar energy and aggravates global warming. Over the past century, China recorded an average increase of temperature of around 0.9 deg Celsius to 1.5 deg Celsius, as shown by the official report.

The adverse impact caused by higher temperatures, such as a greater prevalence of droughts and floods, has been noticeable in the nation. This led to deterioration in soil for growing crops and resulted in a downturn in agriculture industry. It was one of the factors leading to total economic losses of 233.3 billion yuan (S$47.8 billion) due to climate change from 1991 to 2014.

"We expect to turn the hazards into opportunities, by banking on renewables to develop a robust, sustainable and environmentally friendly economy," said Mr Xie.

Once the sector evolves, the cost of renewables will be more modest and available. This would benefit the environment, economy and public health, he told China Daily.

China's accomplishments in tackling climate change have been significant and are now internationally recognised. Between 1990 and 2010, the country accounted for 58 per cent of all the energy saved worldwide, figures from the World Bank revealed.

Even with these successes in mitigating climate change, Mr Xie is determined to deliver more. He said that the Chinese government - as agreed within the Paris Agreement's framework - is stepping up moves to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

He expects the mainland to lower carbon dioxide intensity (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP) by 60-65 per cent relative to 2005's levels.

UNWAVERING COMMITMENT

The United States, the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, announced it was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement this year.

Despite this, Mr Xie said that China still has an unwavering commitment to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions.

He believes organisations and industries in the US will still take the initiative themselves to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Xie has an impressive record in helping to bring together 195 countries, including developing and developed ones, to work towards a greener world. He was involved in negotiations leading to the signing of the Paris Agreement.

He has great faith that China can deliver its promises by 2030, according to China Daily.

"The Lui Che Woo Prize 2017 is a sign of international recognition given not only to me, but also to the central government for its endeavours to preserve the environment," Mr Xie noted.

He said developed nations with mature renewable energy-producing technology could share their experiences and skills with other countries. This would boost cooperation and further help develop a greener world.