By Haibing Ma and Danielle Nierenberg
China’s environmental problems remain a cause for global concern as climate change continues to reduce agricultural production and create instability in world food prices, according to The Worldwatch Institute’s report Green Economy and Green Jobs in China: Current Status and Potentials for 2020. The report was co-authored with a research team at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies led by Dr. Pan Jiahua. It cites alarming facts about the status of China’s environmental stability, including the placement of seven Chinese cities on a list of the top ten most polluted places on earth. “In 2005, water in 59 percent of rivers was undrinkable, along with 70 percent of water reserves and inland lakes, and one quarter of all aquifers polluted with more than half of urban aquifers heavily polluted,” according to the report.
In order to address its dire environmental problems, China is establishing millions of green jobs in the forestry, energy, and transportation sectors. In particular, China is making efforts to use wind and solar power to greatly reduce China’s dependence on coal and create jobs in the manufacturing of wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, and solar water heaters. Additionally, the implementation of high-speed rail throughout the country will allow faster access to business centers and connect people from different regions, while creating jobs in manufacturing and service. While such efforts will help move China in a positive direction, the greatest opportunities for green jobs may be in the sustainable agriculture sector. Sustainable agriculture is a key component in reducing air pollution and water contamination, protecting forests and wildlife, all while producing nutritious food.
At a time when China’s population is growing, producing healthy food is of critical importance. But pollution has taken its toll on agriculture by reducing crop production, including a loss of 10 million tons of grain production annually, according to the report. China is also facing its worst drought in 6o years which has caused food prices to go up; Oxfam USA notes that in March of this year food prices in China were nearly 12 percent higher than they were the previous March. China has emphasized forestry as an effective way of addressing pollution while creating employment opportunities. The report states that forestation alone accounted for 1.8 million full-time green jobs in 2010, and that “nourishing these forested areas is vital for sustaining the country’s green transition.”
In addition, according to the report, agriculture is one of the largest users of energy in China and China is also the world’s largest producer of fertilizer. In 2010, China’s fertilizer production totaled 66.20 million tons, the largest output in history.
China could also benefit from urban forests as a way to use agriculture to provide environmental benefits. When trees and other vegetation, like urban farms and gardens, are planted they act like sinks for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus contributing to a reduction of greenhouse gases and air pollution. Urban forests are being looked at by urban planners around the world, including China, as a way to contribute to the health of urban areas.
Worldwatch’s report is the first to highlight China’s move toward a green economy and the jobs created along the way. At a time when food security is of global concern and population growth continues to stress the environment, the innovations highlighted in the report have the potential to affect the world in a positive way. The report states, “One of the greatest lessons to be learned from the early days of China’s green transition is that building a sustainable future requires using approaches and processes that are sustainable in practice as well.” With more China-focused projects in development, including a potential sustainable agriculture strategy for the northwestern regions, China could achieve both an effective and efficient transition towards a green economy.
Haibing Ma is the Worldwatch Institute’s China Program Manager. Danielle Nierenberg is project director of Nourishing the Planet.