Circular economy in China

It is hard to get a clear picture of the new China that is emerging. While China is one of the worst emitters of climate gases and environmentally harmful substances in the world, the country is working very hard – and successfully – to implement a circular economy.

China is a country that is setting world records in many areas. In addition to having the largest population (1.4 billion), it consumes the most energy in the world (more than 3,000 million tonnes of oil equivalents) and has the world’s largest carbon dioxide emissions (11 billion tonnes). But China is also the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy, with USD 127 billion invested in 2017 alone, which is 45 percent of the world’s combined renewable energy investments.

One of the explanations for this is the country’s ravenous appetite for energy, which is in turn driving and supplying China’s phenomenal growth. Another is the “war on pollution” announced by the Prime Minister Li Keqiang in 2014. The independent research institute Berkeley Earth had previously estimated that the country’s air annual air pollution was causing an incredible 1.6 million deaths in china every year. Even the heavily controlled Chinese media had at that point started reporting critically about the country’s pollution, which is unusual in an authoritarian state like China,

China has been the world’s largest manufacturer of electric cars for a number of years now. The country is spending twice as much as the USA on solar panels and is already producing two thirds of all solar panels in the world. The statistics are similar in hydrogen technology, wind power and for many other energy sources.

The current situation has been propelled and strengthened by the USA’s exit from the world energy and trade policy arenas under President Trump. As the USA reduces federal spending on renewable energy, China is increases its investments, thereby strengthening its hold on the energy market internationally. While the USA is taking a step back from world trade and is introducing tariffs, China is strengthening its ties with the EU.

One example of this is when the EU and China a while go met to intensify their mutual trade relations and their continued focus on free trade. Furthermore, the EU and China have expressed an intention to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation, which is entirely in line with the measures the EU recently decided on in the same area.

China is also doing more to promote its own circular economy. It recently launched a measure to stop importing plastic waste. This will have major consequences, not least for the USA, and will hopefully eventually reduce the USA’s production of unnecessary plastic waste.

The fact is that China adopted the circular economy as an important economic control concept back in 2002. Today there are at least four general frameworks and laws driving the circular economy in China: the Circular Economy Promotion Law, the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, the Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the ongoing Thirteenth Five-Year Plan.

In March 2017 the Chinese authorities established specific recycling goals for 2020 whereby 46 cities are to reach a waste recycling level of an ambitious 35 percent by 2020. Under the new recycling system, waste will be sorted into three categories: hazardous waste (such as batteries and industrial waste), biological degradable waste (such as food waste) and recyclable materials (such as plastics and glass bottles). By comparison, the EU’s average recycling level in 2010 was 36 percent with a goal is to reach 50 percent by 2020. The Chinese government is hoping that the total value of the new recycling system will reach as much as CNY 3 billion (around SEK 4 billion).