Once the biggest polluter in the world, China now has the enviable position of being ranked as the cleanest and greenest of all large, industrialized economies. The ‘airpocalypse’, Beijing’s notoriously thick grey smog, has been permanently eradicated, and the sky above Tiananmen Square is clear and blue.
With many cities banning petrol and diesel cars, and nations aiming for ‘net zero’ emissions in the next ten years, this has been called the Green Decade. Investments in coal and oil have collapsed, and even natural gas – the cleanest of all fossil fuels – has fallen out of favour. Both climate change and real pollution are hot issues on the global stage.
China, the world’s workshop and now the biggest economy, has been able to enforce draconian regulations against water and air pollution, permanently shutting down whole industrial conglomerates that don’t comply. Admittedly, their targets for net zero are far in the future, but China is saving a fortune in healthcare costs, since city air became safe to breathe again.
China is the biggest manufacturer of electric cars, which are wildly popular domestically, and strong sellers internationally. China also dominates the production of solar panels, and has more renewable energy capacity than any country on the planet. In the past, developed countries who outsourced their manufacturing to China were simply exporting their pollution. Now China is the leading exporter of solar cells and batteries, and has the cleanest and most productive factories in the world.
While environmentalists and activists have long been campaigning for China to clean up its act, visionaries like Xi Jinping could see the benefits of clean air and water for national harmony and productivity. And having a green reputation has helped China ascend to leadership in the international arena, both politically and economically. For now, America is playing second fiddle.
Ultimately it wasn’t the efforts of eco-warriors like Greta, or virtue-signalling contracts like the Paris Agreement, that changed Beijing’s course. It was simple economics; cheaper, cleaner, better was a winning formula for China, and the world.