In order for China to achieve its demanding growth objectives it must improve its resource efficiency and prevention of environmental damage. As a result, these issues have become top priorities.
The rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the country’s industrial production has made China the world’s largest consumer of natural resources.
Last year China’s GDP growth rate reached 7.7%. The country consumed a total of 617 billion cubic metres of water and 3.75 billion tonnes of coal to produce the majority of energy consumed in China.
These are figures that Zhang Ming, the head of the China National Resources Recycling Association, uses to illustrate the country’s huge consumption of natural resources. He believes that the economic growth target set for future years, approximately 7%, although lower than the growth rate of 2013, will still require resource efficiency improvement for long term development.
“The Chinese government is committed to increasing resource efficiency and reducing the impact economic growth and urbanisation has on the environment and natural resources,” Zhang says.
Aiming for significant improvements
According to Zhang, the objective of the current Five-Year Plan (2011– 2015) is to increase resource productivity by 15%.
“This requires better implementation of policies and regulations. New research and increasing general awareness of the significance of the matter are also needed,” explains Zhang.
In industry the focus is on promoting a circular economy. This means increasing the recycling of production waste and finding new uses for it.
“The aim is that 72% of the solid waste produced in industry will be reused by 2015”, says Zhang.
China also intends to reduce its energy consumption by 21% and water consumption by 30% by 2015 compared to the levels of 2010.
China declares war on pollution
The sustainable use of natural resources is closely connected to the reduction of pollution of the environment. In a work report published this year, China’s Premier Li Keqiang declared war on pollution.
He compared the prevention of environmental damage to the battle against poverty that has improved the living standards of hundreds of millions of Chinese people.
One of the main ways to reduce pollution is to close down outdated production plants that produce major emissions. Investments in new, environmentally friendly technology are also part of the major structural change in Chinese industry, which will result in the improved energy efficiency of production plants, among other things.
In energy production, the focus is moving away from coal and oil towards renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind power.
Concerns about air and water pollution
Improving resource efficiency is a huge, long term project in a country the size of China. The recycling of waste has constantly increased over the years.
However, there are still challenges in improving the way environmental matters are handled. According to Zhang, the exhaustion of water resources and the pollution of groundwater are some of the greatest obstacles.
“Approximately 10% of our groundwater is badly polluted. In some areas, the quality of the water no longer meets the right standards and the water cannot be used as drinking water.”
The contamination of agricultural land and air pollution are also a major concern. This winter, there were exceptionally large amounts of smog in Beijing and other big cities.
“These environmental problems directly affect the everyday life of people and the stability of society. That is why the Chinese government and the entire society pay special attention to remedying these problems,” Zhang emphasises.
Since economic growth and increased purchasing power will unavoidably lead to an increase in consumption, Zhang believes that finding remedies to these problems is of utmost importance.
According to Zhang, the paper industry is one of 10 industries in China where special attention is paid to resource efficiency.
Increasing the sustainability of wood use, improving the recycling of paper, promoting the efficiency of production plants and reducing emissions are key issues.
Zhang Ming says that UPM has been a frontrunner in its field in China, and that the company is committed to developing its environmental performance.
“When the Finnish forest industry was getting rid of its excess capacity, UPM took measures to promote the employment of those made redundant and encouraged people to become entrepreneurs. Chinese paper companies could learn a lot from UPM.”
As an example of the transparency of the company’s performance, Zhang mentions the UPM Changshu reporting system which sends local environmental authorities data about the production plant’s emissions into air and water in real time, comparatively speaking earlier than other local enterprises.
“This shows the Chinese authorities and consumers that UPM is willing to participate and commit to building a society that saves energy and is environmentally friendly. I hope that all companies will learn from UPM and follow its lead.”
Text Matti Remes
Photography Qilai Shen, UPM