ENVIRO NOTES: Take a lesson from China

While Canada and China have some things in common – size, climate and topographic variation across the country, aspirations for a green economy plus a separatist-minded region – they differ significantly in population and in governance.

China’s top-down oligarchy, so different from Canada’s democracy, has enabled it to push ahead with green technology development, and it is in this area that Canada can perhaps learn from the Chinese experience.

Goals have been set for most aspects of sustainable development along with a long-term green vision for the country but it has become apparent that plans and a vision are ineffective without a clear and appropriate implementation plan.

Canadians have to rely on non-governmental organizations to do much of the environmental sleuthing which Environment Canada is no longer staffed to perform and, too frequently, barred from discussing findings even when they have already published in reputable journals.

The internationally respected journal, Nature, has recently complained about this censoring.

China is now the world leader in installed wind power capacity but about one-third of this capacity cannot be connected to the national grid and so, presently, is of little local value.

As Canada strives to develop renewable and non-polluting power sources, that’s a useful lesson and a trap to be avoided.

China is a major producer of solar photovoltaic (SPV) equipment, but it is largely produced for export, and domestic SPV capacity is only weakly developed. There’s a long road ahead before it can significantly lessen dependence on coal-fired power with its attendant intractable pollution and worker safety problems.

Difficult pollution issues in the SPV industry can be traced to inadequate regulation and implementation of environmental control measures and to lack of communication and co-ordination amongst national, provincial and local governments.

National policies have sometimes been subverted in the interests of short-term local initiatives.  Can we here boast a universally smooth working relationship between Ottawa and the provinces?

China lags in research and development, as is often said about Canada, and so the newest and sttechnologies must be brought in at high costs.

It is also weak in its basic statistics for economic and social structures and, where they are available, data are often unreliable and untrustworthy.

Here in Canada, our nation-wide census has recently been compromised so we, too, may face the problem having only unreliable data for planners.

Markets and marketing in China are much under the control of politics. The firm, though bureaucratic, government control system in place could make it fairly straight-forward to develop a green market economy and to promote public endorsement and acceptance.

Our system leaves much of this to industry.

China is a leader in renewable energy development and is likely to evolve even further.

How do we compare today and how will we compare or compete in years to come? Advances in its green-energy program may well lessen its demand for tar-sands oil; is this fiscally-bad and environmentally-good news for Western Canada?

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News.

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