G20 Blue – A Look Towards Cleaner Skies?

While it is common for Chinese citizens to find the sky covered in hazy smog, in the week leading up to G20, the skies were a crystal-clear blue. China’s white clouds and blue skies caused by the shuttering of manufacturing companies are a rare sight that has grown to synonymous with country’s most important conferences. The skies show the incredible power of the government to cease operations within the country if the incentive to do so is there and provide an indication of what could be done through top-down regulation in the future, should conditions for change be right.

The G20 (Group of 20) summit brought together leaders of the 20 strongest economies in the world, in order to negotiate international economic growth and sustainability policy. While there was no shortage of ideas on macroeconomics, actions toward environmental sustainability were among the most tangible agreements at the summit. Within the conversation of global economic growth, China solidified its commitment to environmental sustainability through the ratification of the Paris Agreement.

Ratification of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was announced at the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris. It outlined the unified goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. The ratification by China, the world’s largest polluter of CO2, showed its resolve to take steps towards reducing emission and strengthening the country and the world’s environmental credentials. As of September 3rd, 2016, there were 180 signatories to the legislation, 26 of which ratified it. Although undoubtedly a positive, it is debatable whether China’s agreement reflects a commitment that is old news or new.

In many ways, China’s ratification of the Paris Agreement echoes the 13th Five Year Plan, and as such is an agreement has come at a time that suits China. The public conscious towards air pollution has been growing, with the middle class less accepting of the pervasive PM2.5 issues, a pollutant directly linked to CO2 emissions. Major policies within the 13th Five Year Plan expounded upon similar topics, including goals to lower carbon emissions, the promotion of the green industry, and the promotion of international cooperation in macroeconomic policymaking. However, the impacts of both policies remain to be seen over the coming years. China’s solidified position is a step towards the rectification of damages from industrial development but does not negate the work that remains to be done within the locale.

A Battle on Two Frontiers

China’s economic growth and environmental sustainability have been placed in a treacherous balancing act between economic prosperity and the country’s overall well being. While the world at large debates solutions to the critical problem of carbon emissions, China battles carbon emissions, in addition to staggeringly high levels of air pollution on a daily basis. China’s development model and subsequent effect of air pollution has led to health burdens that are unsustainable and unacceptable to both the Chinese government and its citizens.  The inhalation of PM2.5 particles is linked to numerous health issues. PM2.5 particles are caused by both industrial and vehicle pollution, which is increasingly problematic in a country with a projected growth in urbanization and vehicle ownership.

A Renewed Indication of Green Industry in China

Arguably, China’s ratification of the Paris Agreement not only demonstrates a determination to battle environmental pollutants at the local and national level but also demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability on a global scale. It shows an acknowledgment that the progress of economic and environmental sustainability within China is not a one-man job. Despite this global commitment, the catalyst for change has been one that is internal and related to PM than the issues of CO2, something the local populous care little about.

Although the government has a large part to play in future mitigation and is arguably the most powerful stakeholder, solutions remain beyond the sole implementation of governmental policy. The market opportunities for solutions by stakeholders, including energy producers, energy intense industries, NGOs, media, and citizens hold the potential to be a driving force in one of the fastest growing markets for the creation of a healthy, environmentally stable, and economically stable China.

The G20 and China’s ratification of the Paris Agreement serve as an important reminder that the environment and the economy are irrevocably connected: if the environment is not sustained, then the economy is equally burdened. Hopefully, with this in mind, the blue skies of the G20 summit become a constant, rather than a rarity.

This article was written by Kendall Tyson, Research Analyst at Collective Responsibility.

Feature Image Credit: Today Online

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