Currently working out of Shanghai with the University of Edinburgh's Low Carbon College, ECCI’s Executive Director Ed Craig blogs about the global #ClimateStrike movement and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for China, Scotland and the rest of the planet.
"Something is happening" seems to be the most common phrase I hear among those active in the fight to accelerate the changes we need to mitigate climate change and adapt to its increasingly obvious impacts.
I have lived and worked in Shanghai for six months this year, working to establish China’s only college focused on sustainability – the Low Carbon College.
Without a doubt China is the key global actor in determining whether we can successfully limit the temperature increase across the planet to 1.5C. And speaking frankly, things are not progressing urgently enough.
China is primarily powered by coal, is selling its high carbon technologies to its partner countries through the truly epic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has set its goal in achieving ‘peak carbon’ by 2030. In the last six months alone, China’s CO2 emissions have risen by 4% with coal, gas, oil and cement demand all up by 3%, 6%, 12% and 7% respectively. This is driven by Belt and Road developments and the housing market in China. Of course, expensive structural changes needed to fund China’s energy transition to lower carbon solutions will be postponed while the mutually damaging trade war with the USA is flourishing.
Two weeks ago, Shanghai Lingang – the home of Tesla’s new Giga Factory and promoted as the 'smart future city' of China – experienced the mighty typhoon ‘Lingling’. A tropical typhoon that was bigger, stronger and wetter than normal. As Lingling hit the new 'smart city' I sat in my concrete high rise flat, windows shaking and whistling, wondering again about the decision making process that went into determining that Lingang – with a population of 800,000 including the world's largest Disney Land – would be built on relatively recently (2003 to 2006) reclaimed land, protected by a six foot embankment of concrete from the sea. This entire 133 km2 area of artificial land is home to industry, commerce and residential buildings is mainly below sea level... gulp.
"We can’t come into work today", "it’s too dangerous, you should stay home also" read the messages from nervous staff but would this awesome, terrifying experience also have an impact on my colleagues’ and partners’ views regarding the need for immediate action regarding climate change? Would my Chinese community of 150 students and 30 staff at China’s Low Carbon College make the link to climate change in their response to the event?
I mentioned the climate strikes taking place in the UK and across the world and immediately I was aware that I was walking on dangerous ground. When I spoke to our students I was met with nervous eyes and silence... many would be aware of what was currently underway in Hong Kong. Amid this lukewarm reception I asked myself, what is the point of climate protest and how can it impact countries like China?
I take great heart that it was from a small country like Scotland that the industrial revolution 1.0 was born and evolved. This demonstrates how a small number of motivated individuals can have huge impact on the whole world.
ECCI was also born in Scotland and will celebrate its 10th year in 2020. Our activities and impact are focused on accelerating solutions, forging understanding and partnerships to deal directly with this climate crisis. Some recent examples of this include resourcing and rewarding novel, step change solutions and coordinating climate change reporting for all 180 public bodies in Scotland
I will return to China in November but this time with the five best sustainable solutions recruited through the newly launched ‘Go Green Growth’ programme as determined by the world’s largest low carbon innovation partnership – Climate-KIC and ECCI and the Shanghai Government. We will spend three weeks using our relationships to embed these solutions into huge ‘problem owners’ – 30 corporate businesses, state-owned enterprises and city institutions – based in China, desperate for leadership from trusted sources.
So there is something happening here in China. Our academics, students and partners at the Low Carbon College will work with enterprises and solution-providers to drive a more sustainable economic approach, strongly backed by President Xi’s vision of ‘eco-civilisation’ for China.
We aim to create China’s first truly circular waste recycling collection system for an entire city – Shanghai Lingang, to mitigate the pollution impact of China’s largest steel producer and to introduce solutions to recover heat and minimise water pollution from China’s largest waste incinerator enterprise.
The dictionary definition of Protest is ‘a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something’ – in Edinburgh, and in China we are making our statement through action.
Here in Scotland we have to continue to influence the world through our ideas, technologies and our talent. Good luck to all on Friday here in Edinburgh and across our fragile planet and may our protests lead to positive action on climate change.