Why I think China will succeed where the West fails in battle to protect Mother Nature

It's going to be a tough battle with many challenges and difficulties, but "we must bite the bullet and overcome them," President Xi Jinping stressed.

China has been racing ahead with development for the past 40 years since the launch of the reform and opening-up policy. In the process, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, and many more will follow before 2020. Development and the alleviation of poverty go hand in hand, but they also inevitably come with their ugly, evil sister: pollution.

But China has what many countries in the world lack: a decisive, fast-acting government that can jump into action and achieve what needs to be achieved faster than others.

President Xi Jinping spoke about the government’s plans last weekend to wrap up a meeting on environmental protection. In fact, controlling pollution is one of the “three tough battles” Xi has detailed, which also include diffusing major risks and poverty alleviation.

Xi laid out a set of principles that China needs to follow in order to achieve what he calls “ecological civilization.” They include ensuring harmony between humans and nature, viewing “lucid waters” and beautiful mountains as invaluable assets, and working with other nations for worldwide solutions for protecting our planet.

But “green” isn’t the only significant color in this battle. One of the main factors Xi wants to tackle first is returning China’s skies to a deep-blue, a visual and powerful image which will highlight the success or failure of such plans for all to see.

But he didn’t just outline a number of goals, instead he talked about ways of achieving them. That includes “the best institutional arrangements and the strictest rule of law.” Enforcement of environmental laws and regulations must be strengthened.

It’s going to be a tough battle with many challenges and difficulties, but “we must bite the bullet and overcome them,” Xi stressed.

China is in good company. Pollution doesn’t just plague developing countries — it’s a beast that rears its ugly head all over the globe. Other countries, like my native New Zealand, face a completely different set of challenges from China when it comes to keeping green.

Most Chinese know that one of New Zealand’s biggest exports is milk, so it may not surprise you to learn that our small country of less than 5 million people has a population of about 6.6 million cows.

And those cows contribute a huge amount of pollution, not only from the methane they emit when they literally pass gas, but also from urinating in local rivers and streams, among other things.

In New Zealand, the agriculture industry produces more greenhouse pollution than transport and energy combined.

But being a liberal democracy, there are too many chefs in the kitchen, so my country lacks the strong, decisive governance needed to really make positive change, and fast. With the opinions of every citizen given equal weight, making significant and urgent changes are almost impossible.

As a case in point, the New Zealand government in 2003 proposed a “flatulence tax,” but that resulted in the powerful farming industry kicking up a stink and protesting the move, forcing the government to flush that idea down the loo.

Other developed countries face their own unique challenges, like mass refusal to honor standards created to protect our planet. The European Commission just announced this month that they will take Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary and Romania to the union’s highest court over their refusal to comply with local air quality standards.

That’s why I’m feeling really optimistic about China’s ability to not only make significant changes to environmental protection in this country, but also around the world. Our planet needs us more than ever, and it’s very clear that the status quo has failed us all.

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