By Steven Akabwayi
When I was researching China’s policy on climate, a friend of mine recommended to me a book titled “China Urban Evolution by Austin Williams”, in the book, Austin writes about the mythological China character known as “Yu the Great”, Yu was a founder of the Zia dynasty between 2100 to 1600 BC, in the book, William narrates how Yu was faced with a dangerous environment catastrophe during his time, amidst this potential devastation, Yu built flood defenses, rerouted rivers, dredged channels, constructed canals and contained those forces that threatened his community.
In doing so not only did Yu manage to contain the floods, but also the ranging waters were channeled towards irrigating the fields leading to agricultural plenty. This is what most scholars compare to what modern-day China under President Xi Jinping is doing towards addressing the climate change problem.
When President Deng Xiaoping took over power in China during the 1970s, as a reformist leader, he implemented a series of economic policies that transformed China’s economy, his revolutionary policies often referred to as “Deng Xiaoping theory or Dengism” aimed to transform China from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented socialist system.
Under these reforms, China had a great hunger for development it was willing to undertake whatever means possible to achieve economic prosperity.
One of the guiding diplomatic philosophies of President Deng Xiaoping was “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white for as long as it catches the mice”.
This simple yet deep premise helps to explain the Chinese modus operandi in all spheres of its diplomacy including the environment during the economic revolutionary years.
China topped the charts of top emitters in the 2000s surpassing the United States, as a result of liberalizing her economy, China experienced a boom of industrialization and economic growth which led to the expansion of the industrial sector and construction that required large quantities of energy to operate leading to an increase in emission of Greenhouse gases.
During this era, China relied heavily on coal due to its abundance coupled with its affordability which made the CPC party pay less attention to coal’s impact on the environment.
Due to its newly established economic policies that favor development, China also experienced rapid urbanization and a strong middle class that led to an increase in energy demand, by the time President Xi Jinping took over power, China was already heavily Industrialized banning fossil fuels in large quantities which resulted in significant environmental changes, having achieved economic stability and drastically reducing absolute poverty, China had to consider a transition. It was no longer necessary to just chase the GDP growth rate; under President Xi Jinping era quality now mattered over speed and President Xi has consistently noted that China is now concerned with sustainable development where green development is at the centre of all.
In October this year, President Xi Jinping met world leaders and representatives from over 130 countries in Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. The forum was held against a global backdrop of the pandemic’s lingering impacts, increasing effects of climate crises and environmental degradation, and an economic slowdown. These factors have contributed to rising debt in countries where BRI projects are implemented, constraining their ambitions for greater infrastructure connectivity and agency in their own development and green transitions.
Just like it has been in the previous forums, Africa was well represented with over 5 heads of state including Kenya, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Egypt presidents attending in person and top of the agenda was climate.
In his opening remarks, President Xi Jinping pledged to finance and roll out more signature projects with more priority appropriated to lower risk and more socially and environmentally impactful projects announcing over U.S. dollar 100 billion in new funding for Belt and Road Initiative cooperation projects
Among the smart projects to be Funded in Africa under the Belt and Road initiative include a 25 MW photovoltaic solar power plant in Burkina Faso, a 10,000 MW solar power plant in Ethiopia, 50 MW wind farm in Lumu area Kenya among others. Investing in these considerably small yet smarter projects signifies the importance China attaches to green development among African countries especially those that are signatories to the Belt and Road Initiative
Steven Akabwayi is a Research Fellow at the Sino-Uganda Research Centre.