Helen Clark: China's low carbon future

Oct 17, 2010

Keynote address by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Shanghai– International Convention Centre

China’s Low Carbon Future: A dialogue of green city and green life
17 October 2010
3.30 – 5pm

It is a pleasure to be at this Low Carbon Future Forum here in Shanghai, and I am particularly happy to see so many young people attending. 

It is always exciting to be back in China, and witness the rapid development progress which is being made.

There is an old proverb which says “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.

Decisions our leaders make today, whether they be presidents or teachers, prime ministers or parents, can have a lasting impact on what happens in our lives tomorrow.

That is especially so with respect to protecting the one planet we have to live on and its ecosystems on which all our lives depend.

If current generations fail to address the urgent challenges of our times – like poverty, climate change, and loss of biodiversity – future generations will suffer the consequences. All these challenges are interlinked – we cannot reduce poverty sustainably if we are wrecking our ecosystems.

It’s important that in tackling these challenges we listen to the voices of young people on whom the responsibility for future decisions will fall - and by whom the impact of today’s decisions will be felt.

Today is designated as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It’s a day when we reaffirm our commitments to and solidarity with all those who live in poverty.

Last month, leaders from around the world, including China, came to New York to re-dedicate themselves to fighting poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. If we can achieve the MDGs, the lives of many hundreds of millions of people will be improved.
The good news is that China has already met or even exceeded many of the MDGs.

These are impressive achievements of which the Chinese people can be very proud.

Indeed, China has many lessons learned, technologies developed, and other resources to share with developing countries, to reduce poverty, improve education, and pursue low carbon development paths.

UNDP has worked in China for more than thirty years. Last month we signed a partnership agreement with China which will also see us working together in support of other countries’ efforts to develop.

Our 21st century development strategies will need to factor in tackling climate change, and adapting to that which is already inevitable.

Extreme weather events associated with climate change are occurring with increased frequency and are disproportionately affecting the poor.

China has certainly had its share of those extreme weather events:

  • This year floods affected seven million hectares of crops, impacting on 113 million people, and resulting in direct losses amounting to $ 21 billion.
  • Yet, elsewhere in China drought left twenty million residents short of drinking water and caused direct economic losses of US$ 2.8 billion.

The longer term impacts of climate change are adding to existing vulnerabilities around the world.

Rising sea levels threaten the very existence of small islands states, and the melting of Himalayan glaciers will pose a serious challenge for many countries – including China. The deserts are expanding too.

It has been estimated that if we do not change our ways, by 2080 an additional 600 million people worldwide may face malnutrition and an additional 1.8 billion people - more than the current population of China and the USA together - may face water shortages.

Climate change is not something which might happen one day. It is a present reality, which, if left untackled, undermines the development and growth potential of all countries, and entrenches existing poverty and inequality.

Greener and less carbon intensive ways of living are therefore critical for the future of our planet. But if we choose a low carbon future, it will also create opportunities for more sustainable cities, cleaner air, and green jobs – all of which can be consistent with continued economic growth and high living standards.

Cities like Shanghai can lead the way as this city is showing in hosting this low carbon World Expo.

The Chinese urban population is growing rapidly and by 2030, it is estimated that it will be around one billion people.

While in many other countries, the large cities are already built and will need expensive retro-fitting for low carbon living, in China many of the cities and suburbs people will live in are yet to be built.

China therefore has an historic opportunity to be a global pioneer in building low-carbon, prosperous, and harmonious cities and suburbs.

Well-managed urbanization also contributes to reaching development goals. Cities create jobs, attract businesses, and can be the generators of innovation, creativity, and new technologies.

China’s efforts to use more renewable energy and its new policy on low carbon pilot cities are of international interest.

In the renewable energy sector, China is already a global player. Last year, it swept past the rest of the world to become the largest manufacturer of wind turbines. China is also the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. There is growing demand for more of these green energy solutions globally, and they will create more green jobs in the future.

The leaders of nations and great cities cannot tackle climate change on their own. The changes which need to be made must be made by all of us. And young people can be in the forefront of designing the new green technologies and sustainable ways of living – to ensure that life on our planet has a good future.

More than two hundred young people gathered here at the UN´s Expo Pavilion this summer for a Green Summit, where they pledged to push for low-carbon development around the world. Their dedication can be replicated by the world´s 1.2 billion young people.

I encourage you to read the book, ‘Our Part’, which will be launched here today by UNDP China’s national Goodwill Ambassador Zhou Xun.

The book´s key message is that each and every one of us can do our part to protect the environment and lead low carbon lifestyles – it is up to each and every one of us to chart a path to a more sustainable and prosperous low-carbon future.

Every little bit of action, no matter how big or small, makes a positive difference.

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world