China’s economy may be slowing, but it has created more jobs than expected in the first half of 2015. As polluting industries and coal imports shrink notably, a significant share of the over 9.7 million new jobs is in low carbon solutions. Energy consumption per unit of GDP also dropped by 4.2 per cent year on year, signaling that China’s deepening structural readjustments are providing better, and cleaner growth. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), there was a drop of major polluting gases (source in Chinese) in the first six months of the year. Speaking at the Davos Summer Forum, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang described the current situation:
“The Chinese economy, now heading toward further growth, is also being weighed down by increasing resources and environmental constraints. It is imperative for us to enhance energy conservation and environmental protection. Tackling climate change is not only our binding international obligation as a major responsible country, but also the pressing need for our own development. There is no turning back in China’s commitment to a sound eco-system. We have declared war on pollution and earnestly fulfilled our due international responsibilities.”
As China cleans up its economy, its reforms and development are creating more clean business opportunities, with more and more investors and business leaders abandoning the “little black rock” to cash in on public demand for clean air.
The climate movement is pushing for a total phase-out of fossil fuels and phase in of 100% renewable energy. China’s moves in that direction are not only essential to curb climate change, but have the potential to reap immense co-benefits. According to a recent report by New Climate Economy, low carbon cities will save trillions, as much as one-fifth of global GDP, and China sees this opportunity coming.
Air pollution, mainly from burning coal, could trigger over a million premature deaths in China. Governments are shutting coal power plants in the US, Germany and New Zealand as they are no longer needed, unwanted, uneconomic, and a public health risk. To save lives and the climate, China must accelerate its own moves away from coal power. This will help cities address air pollution, improve public health, create green jobs, clean up the economy and achieve an earlier peak in carbon emissions. With an expected cost of at least US$1 trillion every year for at least the next five years, cleaning up the air will not be cheap, but it will be be cheaper than dealing with the heavy environmental, economic, health and social costs of burning coal.