China through the eyes of an International Development Expert

August 30, 2021

[Originally published by International Business Daily]

The story of poverty eradication and rural revitalization

In 2020, China eradicated extreme rural poverty as defined by its national poverty line.  By latest accounts, over the last four decades, 770 million people in China have been lifted out of poverty accounting for around three quarters of all people lifted out of poverty globally in that time.

Ms. Beate Trankmann thinks that China should continue its dedicated commitment in the next stage of its poverty alleviation journey, to prevent vulnerable groups from falling back into poverty. There are still 600 million people in China earning less than 1000 Yuan per month, and COVID-19 further exacerbated the socio-economic challenges that the most vulnerable citizens face.

In addition, China's rural revitalization has been further reflected in the "14th Five-Year Plan", which shows that the government is working to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Rural revitalization is conducive to diversify the local economy, improve local living conditions, and expanding the welfare system and public services. These measures can attract people to return to rural areas, especially well-educated young people. If  economic centers and a strong and diverse rural economy can be built, more job opportunities will be created. For policy makers, what is essential is to ensure the implementation of the rural revitalization strategy, strengthen public financial management and planning capabilities, and pay attention to vulnerable groups such as women and the elderly to make sure that they can access to new development opportunities.

Ms. Beate Trankmann said that UNDP will continue to support the implementation of China’s rural revitalization plan in areas such as public financial management, planning, and increasing people’s income opportunities. UNDP is very interested in cooperating with China in this area to ensure that all levels of poverty are tracked at the macro level. Poverty is not only about income, but also about education, health, and access to assets.

The story of responding to climate change

Coal-fired power remains the major energy source in China, although non-fossil fuel’s share in the energy mix is steadily increasing. During the 14th Five-Year Plan, China aims to increase the non-fossil fuel share to around 20% by 2025, from 15.8% in 2020. 

However, to put China firmly on the road to fulfil its 2030-2060 pledge and the Paris Agreement’s commitments, Ms Trankmann believes strengthened front-loaded actions to realize the low-carbon transformation and ensure consistency between China’s climate pledges and its development vision would be critical. More explicit targets to achieve carbon neutrality will be important in the years ahead, she added, including a possible set of absolute targets to continuously reduce coal consumption. This would be a major part of tackling emissions in China and globally since coal makes up 56.8 percent of China’s total energy today and accounted for 80 percent of China’s CO2 emissions originating from fuel combustion in 2018. Meanwhile, the challenges of weaning economies off fossil fuels and coal as the major source of energy are acknowledged. Mitigating the unintended social consequences on individuals and economic sectors will be important for an equitable transition towards a green economy. This is an area, where UNDP is keen to contribute, she said. 

Ms Trankmann added that there are many positive signs coming from different authorities and stakeholders suggesting that China is moving towards higher quality, more sustainable growth, allowing greater space for environmental goals. Furthermore, she said UNDP looks forward to the sectoral five-year plans expected by the end of this year for more details and guidelines.

Developing a low-carbon economy

Beate Trankmann said, “the unprecedented global response to COVID-19 has already proven that a new normal is possible”. China’s COVID stimulus package has been greener than previous ones and increasingly so. However, as everywhere around the world, there is room for improvement in increasing the overall level of greenness, as substantial support has gone to environmentally intensive industrial sectors, she added. 

The key to sustainable growth is creating an environmentally friendly and inclusive development trajectory. China is well-positioned to make this transition. It is at the forefront of solar technology and low-carbon transportation, including high-speed rail, bike-sharing, and electric vehicles. It has one-third of the world’s wind power, a quarter of its solar capacity, six of the top ten solar panel manufacturers and four of the top ten wind turbine makers.

New renewable energy jobs in China now outnumber those created in the oil and gas industries. In 2017, China invested over $125 billion dollars in renewable energy, an increase of at least 25 per cent over the previous year. And China’s new cutting-edge transmission line that sends electricity along a pathway 600 miles longer than anything built to date is a further potential boon for renewables.

We live in challenging times. Our world today faces three major crises: COVID-19, a global health emergency, a climate crisis, and the ongoing decline in biodiversity. The strong signals sent by President Xi announcing new and ambitious climate targets for 2030 and 2060, coupled with China’s capacity, have the potential to set China as one of the leading countries in the transition to a low carbon economy. 

Looking ahead, successfully tackling climate change will require an intensive push on multiple fronts. Aligning government spending with climate targets and the SDGs, mandating climate disclosures, eliminating fossil fuel subsides and taxing emissions to incentivize the uptake of renewable energy are all part of the toolkit to spur on and finance the transition to a low carbon economy. We at UNDP stand ready to support China in these efforts and make the next decade – the decade of action to meet the SDGs by 2030 – really count.