It’s easy to criticise someone for his faults. But ask the critic whether he can help the person accused of incompetency do better, and you’d probably get a load of excuses. That’s human nature.
When I wrote this month’s cover on China’s environmental protection industry, I had to first find out why protection was needed in the first place. For a graphic, even artistic, portrayal of what’s happening in some far-flung communities in that huge country, I recommend Lu Gang’s award-winning works. They made me angry with businessmen who trade scruples and ethics for profits. (I have not used Lu’s photographs only because emails to contact him and the person representing him went unanswered.)
A growing group of environmental journalists and microbloggers have also helped the world see how bad the problems are. And their advocacy prompted NGOs to bring their pressure to bear on corporations or government.
It’s easy to hit out at China for being the big bad manufacturer of the world. It’s true they brought it upon themselves by embarking on 30 years of unbridled production without strict environmental protection laws and enforcement in place. It is a lesson they have learnt, and the government has acknowledged the weaknesses.
But look also at how it has quickly absorbed the philosophy of sustainable development and embarked on an economic policy that marries environmental protection with economic pursuit.
I am under no illusion that it’s all blue skies from now on. It’s no walk in the park to unravel the harm done to the land, air and water over three decades.
When I was at the recent Macau International Environmental Cooperation Forum (MIECF), I heard leaders of the environmental protection industry give a run-down on what they are doing for their respective provinces. I could sense that they were desperate to meet targets set by the central government – targets that should eventually yield better air and water quality indices. Guangdong, the biggest manufacturing province of them all, admitted that it needs technology, and that it needs assistance from foreigners with knowledge that can help heal the earth.
Through G2G contacts, some European companies are collaborating with the provinces to carry out environmental protection pilots. But it’s obvious more needs to be done – a lot more, and over many years. Perhaps some of the issues associated with such collaboration can be traced to distrust and a perceived lack of protection for intellectual property. This should be addressed decisively before China can turn critics into business partners.
This communist country is far from done with its economic transformation programme. As Guardian journalist Jonathan Watts said, it’s a black superpower and a green one at the same time. For the sake of the planet, may the green dragon triumph.
Next issue: Mobilising sustainable logistics
With up to 75% of a company’s carbon footprint coming from transport and logistics, green logistics is seeing rapid growth in sectors ranging from commodities and manufacturing to F&B and retail chains.