British trust puts its trust in China

Updated: 2013-06-28 08:08

By Cecily Liu (China Daily)

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 British trust puts its trust in China

Tom Delay (right), chief executive, and Jan Van der Ven, Asia director of The Carbon Trust believe that China's role in climate change mitigation is very important. Cecily Liu / China Daily

Reducing carbon levels is a tough job, but campaign has the young on its side

China's rapid development gives it an advantage over industrialized Western countries for introducing environmentally friendly technologies that produce relatively low carbon, says Tom Delay, chief executive of The Carbon Trust.

"Low carbon technologies and processes are not expensive to implement from the beginning. It's more expensive if you've already got something in place and you have to do it again. That's why emerging economies like China have an advantage.

"For example, if you've got a big factory that has already been running for 20 years, and it's still running, it's expensive if you knock it down to build another one with less carbon footprint. But if you're building a new factory, it would be much easier."

The Carbon Trust, which the British government founded in 2001 as a charity to help government and businesses implement energy saving measures, set up a representative office in China in 2009, the first international market it ventured into.

"Back in 2008, after having worked in the UK market for eight years, we realized that our remit isn't national," Delay says. "So I said to my board we should be active internationally, but we should also start carefully, and there's one other market we should be active in, and I said China. They all laughed.

"China isn't exactly the easiest place to start. But from a mission perspective, China's role in addressing climate change mitigation is very important."

Carbon emissions as a result of China's rapid urbanization in the past 30 years have caused great concern. China overtook the US as the world's largest producer of carbon emissions in 2007, and its emissions continued to rise. In the US and Europe emissions levels are now falling.

With the goal of helping China achieve a low carbon economy, the Carbon Trust has already worked with Chinese companies and subsidiaries of multinational companies in China on carbon emissions assessments, a method of calculating a company's emissions in every stage of its product life cycle.

This process then helps companies realize carbon hotspots in the life cycle of their products and devise plans to reduce emissions. Companies that achieve the Carbon Trust's standards for emissions will receive certification, which they can advertise to their customers as a way to boost their brand.

British trust puts its trust in China

In China, the footprint assessment is done in partnership with the Center Testing International, a Chinese third- party certification organization that collects raw data from Chinese companies.

Delay says he is optimistic about Chinese companies taking initiatives on carbon reduction, because many are still in the early stages of devising their business strategies, unlike mature Western companies that are already market leaders.

"Companies already with a good market position may not believe there is a need to change anything if they are not required to do so. This is typical of companies around the world."

Delay says another reason for his belief is that a recent Carbon Trust survey found that young Chinese consumers are global leaders in calling for carbon reductions, and consumer demand is a key driver for business directions.

In the survey, published last year, 83 percent of Chinese respondents said they would be more loyal to a brand if they could see it was reducing its carbon emissions, compared with 77 percent in Brazil, 76 percent in South Africa, 73 percent in South Korea, 57 percent in the US and 55 percent in Britain.

About 500 people aged 18-25 were interviewed online in each country. And most respondents from China were from urban areas, given their better Internet access.

"China's urban consumers are saying, 'This is what I want'," Delay says. "Urban China is one of the biggest opportunities in the world."

In two other questions, Chinese respondents again showed the most environmental awareness.

Sixty percent of Chinese respondents said they would stop buying a product if its manufacturer refused to commit to measuring and reducing its carbon footprint, followed by 57 percent in Brazil, 53 percent in South Korea, 51 percent in South Africa, 36 percent in Britain and 35 percent in the US.

Eighty-four percent of Chinese respondents also said they want to see companies' carbon impact quantified by an independent organization, followed by 77 percent in South Africa, 73 percent in Brazil, 69 percent in South Korea, 56 percent in Britain and 55 percent in the US.

However, the trust's Asia director, Jan Van der Ven, acknowledges that these figures only tell one side of the story, as it does not take into account the costs of products, which influences consumer behavior.

Price factors that prompt businesses and consumers to choose less environmentally friendly options are problems Western governments have increasingly been trying to solve through policy measures in recent years.

In Britain from October, the government will make it compulsory for companies listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange to measure and report their emissions.

The policy is aimed at encouraging companies to set targets and strategies for reducing emissions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has estimated that reporting will help save 4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2021.

Van der Ven says that while such policy may be appropriate in Britain, it is important for China to decide what is appropriate for it, because it faces the pressing challenge of bringing its poorest population out of poverty in addition to meeting environmental goals.

"China has tremendously big challenges. A large part of China's population is not well off, and they have high hopes to improve their lives, and the government's challenge is to keep that understanding alive.

"Together with that, there is an environmental challenge, which has resulted in an increasing amount of social tension. For example, factories may be polluting around where people live.

"China needs to develop at an environmental cost that is not unreasonable, and hopefully not for too long, so it can set a model for emerging economies."

The Carbon Trust has shared its knowledge and expertise on reducing carbon emissions with many Chinese government departments, including the National Development and Reform Commission, the China National Institute of Standardization, and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

It entered a joint venture with the state-owned China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation in 2009 to help introduce Britain's low- carbon technologies and expertise to China.

Van der Ven says one example of this expertise sharing is the Offshore Wind Accelerator, a joint industry research project started in 2008 that aims to help Britain's offshore wind industry reduce costs by at least 10 percent by 2015.

After witnessing success in Britain, The Carbon Trust is now helping to bring this model to China in cooperation with the Chinese Wind Power Association and the China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation's wind power division.

In Britain, the Offshore Wind Accelerator enabled nine international offshore wind developers to together fund research work that developed, reduced the risks of commercialized innovative technologies to be shared between the developers. It was two thirds funded by industry and one third funded by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Van der Ven says the same model may also help China's offshore wind industry reduce costs. "China has a lot of potential in offshore wind energy, and China is correctly seeing this as an opportunity. We can make the knowledge sharing across companies work in an appropriate way for China."

(China Daily European Weekly 06/28/2013 page19)