China’s Green Jobs—Cause for Celebration?

Sara Hsu

A recent report from the New Climate Institute finds that one million “green” jobs could be created in China, the United States, and the European Union by 2030 if these nations comply with their current pledges to reduce global warming. While the U.S. and Europe have functioning environmental regulation schemes, China’s environmental regulations are often unenforced. Given China’s struggle with basic environmental protection, can the nation really be on its way to creating thousands of “green” jobs?

The answer is yes, and in some ways China is ahead of the U.S. and Europe in this respect.  China had 1.7 million people employed in the renewable energy sector in 2012, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).  Many of these jobs are in the production of solar panels and wind turbines. Promotion of the “green” energy sector has been spurred in large part by the Renewable Energy Law of 2005, which requires the state to give priority to the utilization of renewable energy throughout China.  This means that power companies are required to purchase energy from the renewable sector.

Promotion of the green energy sector has been furthered by Premier Li Keqiang’s declaration of “war on pollution.”  This  helped to bring about revisions to the Environmental Protection Law to enhance monitoring of and punishment for pollution.  Enforcement has been stepped up, helping to bring about the establishment of the Environmental and Resources Tribunal in the Supreme People’s Court. Environmental targets laid out in recent Five-Year Plans have been set as binding.  China is also attempting to reduce coal consumption by 13 million tons by 2017.  The nation is planting trees to reforest regions, prevent desertification, and improve air quality.  Finally, some local experiments with sustainable development have taken root: eco-communities were set up in wealthier provinces in 1995; Xiamen set up an integrated coastal zone management program; and some provinces are increasingly implementing wind turbines.

However, China continues to lag behind in some critical ways. While environmental law enforcement has improved, as is evident in the number of environmental violation cases being brought to court, it is improving over very low levels. Air and water pollution levels are high, so high that air in Beijing is virtually unbreathable, and water in some industry-intensive locations is undrinkable.  Carbon emissions are increasing.  Agricultural and industrial production have had an adverse impact on the environment, including on levels of biodiversity.

So yes, China is on its way to creating thousands of “green” jobs, but there is so much more that needs to be done for China to be truly “green.”  The extensive damage that has been wreaked on the environment by years of polluting industrial activity needs to be reversed, and this presents a very costly and time-consuming task.  China also needs to go beyond acting as the solar photovoltaic panel-producing hub of the world to incorporate green energy and green living into its most populous areas.  More “green” jobs can be created to implement pollution-controlling and greening technology in the industrial sector, ensure environmental health and safety, increase energy efficiency, better process waste, and research green technology.

When China starts to win its “war on pollution” and creates “green” jobs that reflect an underlying beneficent attitude toward the environment, the world will have cause to celebrate.  Until then, we raise a glass to China in the hopes that the nation will push forward even more vigorously on its present course.

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